I wish to say a few words on another subject. I wish to say a few words about the Dissolution. I do not intend to keep the House waiting more than a few minutes, but I must preface what I am about to say by one or two observations. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend—I was going to say my old and right hon. Friend—the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) here, because that brings up the tale of Prime Ministers in the House to three, and no-one who has not had the fortune, or misfortune, to occupy this post quite realises the responsibility which is thrown upon Prime Ministers in the selection of a date for a General Election. I was very interested when a valued correspondent sent me a short quotation which rather bears on the point, written by a man of great ability and a great student of constitutional questions. Writing 90 years ago, in the days of the septennial Parliaments, he said this. The words I am going to quote do not come
together in the context, but what comes between makes no difference to the sense:
Whatever may be the legal term of Parliament, it ought always to be a year longer than that for which Parliament ought ordinarily to sit. A wise Minister will always dissolve a year before the end of the legal term. If, therefore, you wish Parliament to sit for four years the proper course would be to make the legal term five years. My own inclination would be to fix the legal term at five years and thus practically have a Parliament every four years.
Those were the words of Lord Macaulay. Those words have proved themselves very true as applicable to Parliaments whatever the legal duration. Illustrations are given in the passage from which those sentences have been removed to show that in the half-century before he wrote, nearly every Parliament was brought to an end about a year before its legal limit. So, when you come to the brave days of Disraeli and Gladstone you will find that in 1868 and in 1874 when they were the greatest figures in the country, and each came into one of those Parliaments with a large majority, six years instead of seven was taken as the term, and if you look back over many years past you will find that that rule holds more or less good.
§ Now this has some bearing on what I propose to say. Things have altered since those days in this way. There is infinitely more business before Parliament now than there was then, and in practice there are the gravest difficulties in having an Election at any other time of year than in the autumn or the first six weeks of the new year. You find that in nearly the last 40 years the only exception to that rule was when I was Prime Minister and dissolved Parliament in May, I think it was, of 1929. To do that we had to present a non-contentious Budget, to get it through quickly and to ask the House of Commons—which is not a practice I ever purpose repeating—to curtail discussions on Supply by a great deal and to give up one of their essential functions in order to allow the Election to take place. Therefore I have long come to the conclusion that you must rule out the spring and summer months because of financial business. You must rule out August and September because of the holidays. You are left with the autumn, but in no circumstances must you run into any interference with 155 the Christmas trade. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite never thought of that, but they would have it brought to their minds very quickly, I think, if they had to make a decision. You are limited, therefore, to a small period in the autumn and the early part of the year, and the early part of the year must depend on the date of Easter in that year. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may think that I am playing with them, but I am not. These matters are a very pertinent consideration.
§ It follows from what I say that not only does everybody in this country know that an Election must take place very soon, but it also follows, what, perhaps, hon. Members have not thought of, that foreign countries are equally alive to that fact. Strong as this Government is, united and marked as our action has been at Geneva, there is a tendency for everyone to be looking over his shoulder and wondering what is going to happen and what kind of Government we will have if an appeal to the nation is made as it must be, either now or within the next three months.
§ Now I come to the point which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). It is a pertinent point, and I need hardly assure him it is one which has been in my mind. He asked, why have an Election now when there is such a critical position in foreign affairs at this moment? It was in trying to find an answer to that question that I made up my mind the other day as to the precise date of the Election. The whole House knows how full the newspapers have been of an immediate Election. They had no authority from me at all. I spoke to no one on the question, and I preserved an open mind on it to the last for the very reason which my right hon. Friend put forward. I saw last week that there was, as far as could be seen ahead—and you can see with greater certainty ahead for three weeks than you can for three months—that there was coming a lull in foreign affairs and that, as far as I could see, it would be perfectly safe to have an Election in that time. I could not say the same of January. I hope that affairs may be better, but I do not know. This present position may last for some time. We 156 might conceivably find in January a much more difficult time at which to go to the country than to-day. If that were the case, then we should have to face those alternatives of which I spoke earlier, that is to say, either trying to get an election in the summer, with the upsetting of the financial arrangements and the interference with the business of what is normally a very congested period of the Session, or running on into the holidays. It seemed to me that the wiser course was to get the election over.
§ I make no apology to the House for putting this point, but I want to put one personal aspect, and that is that the burden on a Prime Minister in these critical times is no light one. I do not pretend to have as broad a back or the skill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who carried far greater burdens in his time in the War, but, speaking for myself, I find this burden, this anxious position, that I said may last for many weeks yet, a heavy one, and I do not want to have to be thinking, and I do not want the Foreign Secretary or the Government to be thinking, all the time, "Now when can we go to the country; when can we find the time to interfere with this most important work for three or four weeks?" We know we have got to do it soon, and I think we shall be in a far better position to get on with our work, if we are entrusted with it, if we know that we have a certain period, without fear of interruption for elections, lying before us to carry out the policy which we have agreed upon.
§ For these human reasons, I decided that it was my duty to ask for a Dissolution immediately, which His Majesty has been graciously pleased to grant. Therefore, Parliament will be prorogued and dissolved on Friday, the nomination of candidates will take place on Monday, 4th November, and the poll on Thursday, 14th November. The meeting of Parliament on 26th November will be for the election of a Speaker and the swearing-in of Members, and the State Opening of Parliament will be on 3rd December. That, I think, will give, whatever the result of the election, as little interruption of the conduct of the business of the nation in Parliament as can be managed in the circumstances. The only business with which we propose to deal before the 157 Prorogation is the Motion to approve the draft Order which gives effect to certain recommendations made by the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee in regard to the payment of benefit rates to dependent children. I am sure Members in all parts of the House will desire that effect shall be given to that recommendation.
§ There is one other word that I wish to say, on a Motion which the Leader of the Opposition was good enough to advise he was going to put down. It was his intention, we understood, to give notice to hand in a Motion of Censure in regard to unemployment, and I am told the terms of the Motion will appear on the Order Paper to-morrow. I regret that I cannot see my way to give time for that Motion, for these reasons: The House has been called together a week earlier at the request of the Opposition, on account of the international situation. We were officially requested to meet the House before 29th October, which was the date fixed, and move the Adjournment of the House for a Debate on foreign affairs. The international situation is of paramount importance to-day, and we considered it our duty to give the House the fullest opportunity of discussion, and, in view of the large number of Members who wish to speak on this matter, it appears to us that three days will be fully occupied. The question of unemployment is also of profound importance to the country. It is under constant and continuous examination by the Government, and it was the subject of many and protracted debates before the House rose. I am afraid that the only thing to do in the circumstances is, in the words of the sporting papers, to "change the venue." The Vote of Censure will be moved in the country before the one tribunal by whose decision we must all abide. I am sure the Opposition will be prepared to move it, and we shall be prepared to meet it to the best of our ability.
§ I would add one other thing, and then I have finished. As I said yesterday, I think in answer to a question from the benches opposite, any subject can be raised on the Adjournment which does not involve legislation. I have made it plain in what I have said that in our view the discussion on the foreign situation should not be restricted, because of its importance, but if the whole of the 158 remaining time is not required for that Debate, obviously other subjects could be raised, and the Government, of course, have no objection to debating any other subject which the House may desire to raise on the Adjournment.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I rise, not to make another speech on the main subject before the House, but to deal with the last point made by the Prime Minister. I want to ask the Prime Minister formally for a day for a Vote of Censure in these terms—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
It is a new Motion handed in. The Motion we propose to put down is:That His Majesty's Government has forfeited the confidence of this House by its failure to cope with unemployment or to deal with the problem of the depressed areas, and by its inability or reluctance to disclose its settled policy for the maintenance of the unemployed.I am making that formal announcement now because we were prevented from doing so yesterday. The Prime Minister refused then to tell the House the date of Dissolution. I have heard nothing in what he said to-day that forms any justification for his not having made that statement yesterday. In my view it was an insult to the House. Further, the right hon. Gentleman said that this House was specially summoned to deal with foreign affairs. That is quite true, but there was no suggestion then that the House would be closed down in three days. It is perfectly obvious that the right hon. Gentleman wants to dodge any discussion of home affairs.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. HICKS
I intervene in this Debate to urge the Government to snake the League of Nations an instrument for peace instead of an instrument for war. I resume the theme that was started yesterday and debated so effectively on all sides. I was pleased with the statement of the Prime Minister that the only possible course of action was loyalty to the Covenant and that the Government were ready to seize every opportunity in order 159 to give purpose, content and life to the Covenant and to the statutes and everything associated with them. I had hoped that the Prime Minister would also have stated that the Government were ready to initiate, in addition to being just ready to seize opportunities. I am satisfied, from my knowledge of international affairs, and my association with international organisations, that the credentials of the British Government stand very high in the councils of the world. It is eminently desirable, in view of the excellent credentials they have and the position they occupy, that they should not merely wait for opportunities, but that they should initiate opportunities in order to make the League of Nations more powerful than it is.
The only possible instrument which can maintain the isolation of the conflict in Abyssinia is the League of Nations. I was disturbed at the statement of the Prime Minister that many nations gave wavering support to the League. That seems to me to be a very severe criticism of those who have been responsible for working in the League and of the contributions that they have made to it if during all those years they have not been able to command such respect for the League and its work that the question of wavering support would be entirely eliminated. We are certain on this side that the indecision of this Government in the Sino-Japanese trouble was responsible for alienating support for the League. We are certain that if the Government of the day had taken their courage in their hands and applied the Covenant of the League in that dispute, the League of Nations would have stood higher in the councils of the world than it does. The Prime Minister also stated that the Government were very concerned about the defence services. The right hon. Gentleman said that unless we occupied the position he occupied we were unable to understand the strength and importance of observations which were made. I have always been taught to understand the English language, and I think that the common people of this country understand that increased armaments and collective peace are not things that should go side by side. We have always understood that if a Government relied on increased armaments for security, it meant war. 160 We believe that countries will reach a position of relative security only through the collective peace system, and not through an increase in armaments.
I agree with the Prime Minister that the democracy of this country does not fail to rise to the occasion when the truth is put before it. I do not think that on the last occasion, when they were told their Post Office savings were in danger and that it was necessary to keep the country on the Gold Standard, they were told the truth. Recently the Prime Minister quoted in a Debate an observation made some time ago by a statesman with regard to the many facets of truth. I think that the Prime Minister in his statement to-day recognised that the observations he made had other sides to them which would have to be shown before the democracy have the full facts revealed to them. We on this side are ready to accept the date of the election, although we regret that it should take place in the present atmosphere. We would have preferred a general election to take place in an atmosphere where patriotism was not the main issue.
We much regret that the Prime Minister is not able to give an opportunity to debate the Motion on unemployment which we have drawn up. Important as the Abyssinian conflict is, we believe that the issue that should be brought before the electors is the issue of home affairs—unemployment, distressed areas, and the condition of the life of the people. A debate of a day or two days on such questions would be of enormous assistance to the democracy in making up their minds when the election takes place. When the Prime Minister stated that this Motion would be taken to the country and that the democracy would decide on it, there were tumultous cheers from the Government supporters, and I was reminded of a statement of Lord Snowden during the last Parliament when, dealing with the question of going to the country, he said, "The seats that hold you now will not hold you any more." There are hundreds in this House who will not come back, and if the Prime Minister comes back he will be on this side.
We believe that the real hope of peace lies in the strengthening of international law, and our real duty is to make any 161 contributions that can be made to that end. The path to war and disaster lies in the strengthening of national armaments and in relying on armaments for security. The spirit in which the League was created was that of a supreme endeavour to establish collective world peace. If it has been weakened either by States not being associated with it or by wavering support of others, we are sorry. There has been worldwide propaganda in each country aimed at developing strength and increased power for the League. We must, as serious men and women, believe that the League of Nations represents the greatest effort that has yet been made to evolve an instrument for peace. We must resolve that the League shall not fail; not come along and say, "If the League fails we have to do something else." It ought to be our firm resolve that, whatever happens, the League shall not fail. If we make up our minds and say it strongly enough, and mean it, the League will not fail. Now is the time to reinforce and strengthen the League. It is the duty of this Government to do it. They can make that contribution and should do so.
The League should be strengthened in conformity with the dictates of present requirements, if it has not, so far, been equal to meeting the emergencies such as the ever-changing conditions of the world bring forth. We must remember that we are living amid economic and social rapids, that things change almost week by week and certainly month by month, and if the League in its present form is not capable of undertaking what is expected of it obviously it should be changed and fashioned in conformity with the dictates of those requirements. I cannot hope to give the Government much information on this matter, and I do not suppose that any other Member of the House is able to do so. We have a very efficient Foreign Office, we have our diplomats in all parts of the world and we have a consular service, and so far as information about the behaviour of countries is concerned I cannot hope to give the Government any information of which they are not already possessed. All that we can do in our Debates is to try to stress the importance of the situation. The Government say that they are speaking for the country, and we hope they 162 are. We are hoping the Government can speak for the country in regard to the strengthening of the League of Nations.
I was not happy yesterday while listening to the Foreign Secretary, because although he made a very lucid and clear statement I felt there was not that wholeheartedness about it which would give us confidence that the Government are taking the necessary vigorous steps. I am sorry to have come to such a conclusion if it is an improper conclusion, but I would point to the placards we see this morning saying that Italy is particularly pleased with the speech. If the fact that Italy is pleased with the speech meant that Italy was coming nearer to the League of Nations we should all be particularly happy, but we do not feel that the enthusiasm with which the speech was received yesterday is indicative of any intention on the part of Italy to come into conformity with the League of Nations and to work for world peace.
The motives of Great Britain have been questioned. We have been accused of using the League not as an instrument of peace but as an instrument of imperialist policy. The very best way of answering such suspicions and of reassuring the world that it is not our intention to use the League as an instrument of imperialist policy is to make the League stronger—for us to make a more effective contribution towards strengthening the League. If the League does not now move forward inexorably to bring Italy under arrest and restraint we must accept the position of belonging to a doomed generation and a civilisation that is ended. I candidly and seriously believe that to be the case. If after all that has been said about collective security, collective peace and international brotherhood one nation is able to set all the other nations at defiance and we see those nations standing by and taking no action, it must be the end of international law. What is the use of training us up to believe in international law if, when the occasion arises, no effort is made to apply it? I say "no effort" in a qualified sense, of course. We may as well resign ourselves to the day of mustard gas and everything else if we are not able to restrain Italy from attacking a relatively defenceless people.
The moments are precious; we cannot delay. I feel certain the nation will be told not only from our platforms but 163 from the platforms of those who support the National Government that the moments are precious, and that there should be no delay in strengthening the League of Nations. All the world knows that Abyssinia is right in the solar plexus of the British Empire in East Africa, and our reply to the suspicions about our having imperialist aims should be to throw the whole might of Britain into the support of the League, without subterfuge, without qualification and without any independent understandings with separate Powers attached to the League. It is true to say that Italy is morally isolated in the world. I was present some time ago at Geneva and met there, with a deputation to which I will refer later, our very efficient representative the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. Going through the offices of the League and everywhere else where we went in Geneva I gained the impression that everyone felt that Italy was committing a real wrong against international law. There were no friends of Italy. Everyone seemed to regard Italy's action as outrageous. There were men there from all parts of the world, men of great experience, working with great enthusiasm day and night to bring reason to bear against the employment of brute force.
Italy to-day is without a friend in the world, and I think the morale of Italy, both in the field abroad and in its own country, is something of which we ought to take special notice. Military men have always said that the moral factor is a particularly important factor in the prosecution of a war. I think it was Napoleon who said that the moral factor ought to be about three to one in a country's favour if it is effectively to prosecute a war—others have put it somewhere on a 50–50 basis—and there is an opportunity in the fact that the whole world is holding up its hands in protest against the action of Italy. We should exploit that situation for the purpose of teaching the people of Italy, not only those in the country itself but those in the field. Because if the morale at home is sapped the change soon communicates itself to those who are in the field, and we ought to exploit that situation to undermine the military prowess and behaviour of Italy in Abyssinia. The world is satisfied that Italy is engaged in a cruel, wanton and dastardly 164 attack upon a relatively defenceless country. The world says that. There is no question about it. Those who do not say so may have, I suppose, genuine reason for their point of view, but so far as I have read the Press and been in contact with representative opinion the general attitude is what I have represented it to be. I beg the Government to take such action as will make it plain to Italy and the world that the League has no desire to hurt the Italian people at all. The world ought to prevent the armed forces of Italy, under the drive of a Fascist dictator, doing hurt to the people of Abyssinia. That is the position. We have no desire to do hurt to the people of Italy; neither have we the desire that Italy should do hurt to the people of Abyssinia.
The extent of the sanctions which we have discussed from time to time has not been fully decided upon, nor have the vigour and the speed with which they should be applied. On this side of the House we believe that sanctions should be applied. We believe—I hope that I shall be corrected if this be wrong—that the Government had not given five minutes' serious consideration to the type and the character of the sanctions until the issue was right upon us. [Interruption.] Well, I hope to be informed later on whether earlier action had been taken to inquire into the type and character of sanctions, and when they were likely to be applied. The present situation has been as plain as a pikestaff to those who have been able to interpret international behaviour and action, particularly as shown by a country where Democracy is absent, and where there is no chance of obtaining correct statements to go upon. We believe that the position indicated itself very clearly for many months past, and that earlier action should have been taken. There should have been earlier consultation upon the type of sanctions, in order that sanctions might have been applied more quickly and been more ready.
I am not accusing our present Minister for League of Nations Affairs of any dilatoriness in the matter; I am sure that everybody in the House agrees with the manner in which he has handled the matter all the way through. To-day that Minister is wearing his wreath of laurels, but there are plenty of people who will be ready to make it into a martyr's crown 165 for him, particularly those who say that his hands should be restrained. I have nothing but praise for the statements that he has made and the clarity with which he has made them. I am sorry that the position was to some extent weakened yesterday by the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as also by discussions which have taken place for some time outside the League.
Sanctions should embody law action, and not war action, against Italy. We do not believe that war action against Italy is necessary. International law is so firmly established that if countries are willing to back up the League such law action can be taken. We must either use restraint in order to ensure peace, or we must remain weak and helpless, but the force that we should use is the ordinary force of law. Law must be established, and the machinery that we have for its enforcement must be employed; we must not squeal if, in the application of it, harsh things have to be said, and sometimes harsher things have to be done. Unless we do that, we shall have to wait until the least scrupulous of the countries is educated to recognise that war is wicked and does not pay. The most Tolstoyan of pacifists would readily admit that educating all the countries of the world to the view that war is wicked and does not pay is a long process.
Sanctions may mean starvation, suffering and misery. Those who have discussed the application of sanctions and understand them know what such results are brought in their train; but war will mean greater starvation, greater suffering and greater misery. The choice of civilisation in the matter of sanctions is this: Which should be applied? War means starvation, suffering, handicap and misery not only to Italy but to Abyssinia. Death's grisly fingers are already knocking at the doors of hundreds of Italian homes because of fever, malaria, and disease. Death's grisly fingers are also knocking at Abyssinian homes. The horror of war is already showing through the tinsel glory of the parade ground.
As someone said many years ago, Truth is always the first casualty in war. We are not familiar with all the things that are happening, and are not allowed to know the truth. News is censored. As a result of my international associations 166 with Italians I am confident that many of them cherish the illusion that Italy has a world mission to perform. For a generation or more in their own country they have been taught that through their Press. The illusion has been carefully nursed, and military ideals have been carefully fostered in them. The war fever has been encouraged. Many Italians think that Mussolini is more than a dictator—that he is a political genius. They believe that he is greater than any of the great statesmen of the world and that, given the opportunity, he will do wonderful things. They believe that everything that was necessary to arrange in order to carry on the war had already been arranged, and that when Mussolini went with his army into Abyssinia the world would applaud him, not only as a great military organiser but as a great political genius carrying on the holy work of the mission that Italy was called upon to do in the world. If we take the action that is necessary, the next few weeks will witness the destruction of this illusion not only in Signor Mussolini himself but in the Italian people.
I am more concerned about the morale of the Italian people, in order that we might destroy that morale and their belief that they are engaged in a holy mission to teach the world something that the world does not know. If the economic conditions of the Italian people, their standards of life and employment, wages and other things had improved during the past decade there might have been some basis for them to hold that belief, but their conditions are among the lowest in Europe. I have not the figures by me, but I could easily get them. Wages, and the standards of life of the people, have been reduced to the lowest level, and yet Signor Mussolini is going out as a great civilising genius. That is the sort of illusion that we ought to stop in the Italian people to-day.
I want our economic sanctions not to be taken in such a way that Signor Mussolini will be able to mobilise resistance to our action. When a man or woman behaves improperly in our streets, the crowd of people usually disapproves of that behaviour, but if the policeman who comes along behaves in such a way as still further to outrage sentiment, the crowd will oppose the policeman. Our sanctions must destroy the morale of the 167 Italian people in the sense that they believe that their cause is just and righteous, and that they must go on with it to the end. I am certain that that will be done. There are men and women in this country and in other countries of Europe who have sufficient understanding to be able to employ sanctions of such a character as will bring home to those people the necessity for recasting and revising their opinions and their behaviour in this matter. I want that to be done. Such action as is taken should be action to destroy the war morale of the Italians. The central objective in this matter should be for Italy to return to the peaceful comity of nations. We ought to say to Signor Mussolini and the Italian Government, "There is nothing you will be able to get by military operations that you could not have got by negotiations before." We ought to make that clear. We should limit the sufferings of the peoples by breaking Signor Mussolini's dreams of conquest; we should smash his illusions.
We are not satisfied on this side of the House, nor are the workers of this country satisfied, that we are taking action swiftly enough. I recognise that consultation with the countries of Europe which we have to consult may take rather a long time before action can be decided upon, but we believe that, even allowing for that fact, we are not swift enough in moving to action. Action should be swifter and more decisive than it is. We want to stop the useless massacre that is going on. We want the Covenant and all the powers that the League possesses to be applied in order to arrive at this desirable end. We say also that the British Government must render assistance to those who suffer economic losses by the action which the Government take. That is a perfectly legitimate demand. Assume, for instance, that in South Wales there is 100,000 tons of coal to be shipped to Italy, and that as a result of the application of sanctions that coal will not be produced because there is no market for it. It means that those who would have been engaged in producing that coal will suffer economic loss because of the action of the Government. If the Government were to engage in military action it would be necessary to pay the soldiers who did the Government's work. If others carry out the work of the Government it seems 168 perfectly legitimate to say that the Government should be responsible for assisting those who are rendered idle by the action of the Government. In any case it would be much cheaper and much more moral than war to say that if economic losses are imposed on people the Government have a responsibility for compensating them. What is wrong with it? It would be a perfectly proper thing to do.
I said just now that I had been privileged to attend many conferences in this country, such as the Trade Union Congress and the Labour Party Conference, when this question of sanctions has been discussed, and I would add that the character of the debates that took place would do credit to any assembly in the world. All those who took part were attempting to evolve a proper understanding of civilisation and to build up the strength of international law. I have also attended several important conferences on the Continent. I attended one in Geneva in September, where I met representatives of all the European organisations of the trade union and Socialist movements. I want to impress on the House that the free peoples of Europe who are able to express their opinion are unanimous and enthusiastic for League action against Italy. Those who lived on the border of Fascist States poured out to us at these Conferences their fears, and appealed to us to be sympathetic to them. It may be easy for some of us who are far removed from them not to understand the difficulty and handicaps under which these people suffer. We may be able to adopt a detached attitude, and that may seem very nice for us at a summer school for debating purposes. But these people beg and pray that sanctions may be applied against Italy in this particular matter.
I was very pleased to attend several of these conferences, and I was one of a deputation to the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, to whom I was able to convey the unanimous resolution of the whole of the organised workers of Europe, and to make an appeal to him to use his greatest strength and skill in order to fulfil our desires. We were satisfied with the reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave. We wish him greater strength in this matter. I want to reinforce him; I do not want to 169 weaken him; and I am sure the workers of Europe do not want to weaken him.
We were very proud of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary at Geneva. We do not want him to weaken. It may be nice to engage in conversations that would lead to the peaceful participation of Italy in the work of the League, but we believe that the other steps are important and that they should be taken. The British Government must not fail to live up to its reputation abroad. Should it fail, not only will it let down Great Britain, but it will let down a number of other countries who believe that British statements have been made in good faith and were intended to be applied. The Government should not encourage an international armaments race. That is the last thing in the world they should do, and I beg them not to do it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated the other day that increased armaments would call for a lot of money. I suppose the Government will tell us how it is proposed to meet the expenditure, and it will be interesting to know. But the Government's job is not to engage in an international armaments race. Their job is rather to engage in international and friendly rivalry with others in a contribution to world security. They can best do that through the League of Nations.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I would like to associate myself with the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) in practically all that he has said, and to welcome the opportunity that comes to me to pay a tribute, on behalf of my friends, both to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and to the Minister who is responsible for League of Nations Affairs. The right hon. Gentleman who is Minister to the League has a position beyond anything that he can himself estimate. I do not think he can know how in every part of the country those who have no association with his party at all look to him with great admiration because of the courage and the devotion that he has shown in a very difficult task. As for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I am bound to say that when I read some months ago that he was about to leave the India Office, I was very sorry, but that since I have been glad that the change has been made. I do not know that the credit of the country has stood higher 170 than it did on 11th September, when the Foreign Secretary made his speech at Geneva. There was no doubt that that speech marked the watershed. Up to then there had been uncertainty in every direction, but from that time there has been certainty. Certainly we were very doubtful before that speech was made.
Some suggestion has been made in this Debate that Signor Mussolini ought to have known what was to be the position in this country and what attitude we were going to adopt in relation to the Covenant of the League. How could Signor Mussolini have known, seeing that we did not know ourselves? There was no member of this House who could go to his constituency before the right hon. Gentleman had spoken and say assuredly that we were going to take the line that has since been taken. We had a speech made not very long ago in the Division which I have the honour at present to represent. It was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) on 29th July. I am not quarrelling with him, for I think he has put his case before the country with great clarity and force. The right hon. Gentleman said:To-day they were confronted with the fact that Italy seemed determined to swallow up Abyssinia, and she would do so unless Abyssinia was strong enough to defend herelf. No one else was going to defend her.Later on the right hon. Gentleman said:They could not think that France was going to quarrel with Italy over Abyssinia, or that any other nation concerned with its safety in Europe was going to do anything to endanger that safety.The importance of that speech was that the view expressed was supported generally in that part of the country; it was endorsed after the speech had been made. There was no one in that part of the country or in any part of this land who could get up and deny that the position was as the right hon. Gentleman described it. It was only in September that the position was made clear, and I would say that I think it is only out of the generosity of his heart that the Secretary of State said yesterday that his speech could not have been made earlier because there would not have been collective opinion or public opinion to support it. What makes public opinion? The right hon. Gentleman's speech made public opinion in September. It was his lead that made public opinion. A public 171 opinion existed in this country and in otter countries of the world, but it was the right hon. Gentleman's speech that consolidated that public opinion. The only reason that there was not that consolidated public opinion before was that there was not then the lead. Instead of having Great Heart here, as we have now, we had Mr. Much-Afraid.
Then we had the speech by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, on which there will be a good deal of discussion. But there is a third speech that the right hon. Gentleman made that has gladdened the hearts of a great many. It was the speech that appeared in the papers of last week and was sent to America, a speech which I am sure was not intended for consumption solely in America. I have read no speech of recent years which has gladdened my heart more than that. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking to America, said:It seems to me that the lowering of the barriers to international trade, slow and difficult as the task must inevitably be, is one of the most fundamental tasks of the present time. It is a task that must be persistently and courageously pursued, not only by Ministers of Commerce who desire to promote the economic welfare of the world, but also more by all those who wish to promote international friendship and to serve the great cause of peace.Other passages were in a similar strain. I would like to tell the right hon. Gentleman that, if his foreign politics and the foreign politics of this country are to be inspired by that ideal, and if that is to be the endeavour, we think that the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Yesterday it was evident in this House that his followers had not read that speech. My right hon. Friend (Sir Herbert Samuel) made a reference to Ottawa, and up got the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and asked what Ottawa had to do with it. He said it was only by some mental ingenuity on the part of my right hon. Friend that he could associate Ottawa with the present position. Later on the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) spoke of it again as being just a little idiosyncracy of my right hon. Friend, who could hardly help bringing in King Charles's head. If anyone doubts the connection, let them read the speech that the right hon. Gentleman made to America last week, in which he showed 172 how close was the association between economic trouble and political trouble throughout the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) who spoke last night recognised the position a great deal better than many of his colleagues. Does anyone doubt that the Ottawa policy, imposing the closed door, has had the most serious reactions throughout the world? If there is any doubt on that question, I have here what the "Times" had to quote from Italy, from Japan, and from Germany even a few weeks following on the Ottawa Agreement It said:The British Empire is now a different thing from what it has been in the past, and the question will have to be raised whether one country can have a closed Empire covering so large a portion of the world's surface.Out of consideration for the time of the House I refrain from quoting the papers that were sufficiently important to be published in the columns of the "Times" at that time.
The declaration was very clear. Mr. Bennett said that in future, under the Ottawa Agreements, no one would be able to trade with the British Empire except on payment of tribute; and Mr. Mackenzie King said that, if that be true, it breaks down the whole philosophy upon which the British Empire has been built up. I remember that during the Ottawa debates I said that the President of the Board of Trade had no right to speak for Canada, and that Canadian opinion would be declared against these proposals as soon as the opportunity came. He scoffed at my opinion. Last week, as soon as the Canadian people had the chance to express their mind, they went to the poll and washed out all that Mr. Bennett said there on this matter, and stood by Mr. Mackenzie King. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait till they reduce the tariff."] My hon. Friend would know, if he had followed those debates, that Mr. Mackenzie King pledged himself to a reduction of tariffs.
There is not merely the broadcast speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Other trumpets are now being sounded. In the "Morning Post" two days ago there was a letter written by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), in which he pleaded that the tariffs now being imposed were not high enough, and he said that it was for the members of 173 his party to take the opportunity at this election to see that the tariffs were high enough to deal with the imports still coming into this country. I think it was the President of the Board of Trade who said some time ago that it was for the Government to sound its trumpet. We want to know which trumpet. The right hon. Gentleman says that the barriers are too high and must be lowered, that the tariffs are too many and must be reduced; while the hon. and gallant Gentleman, writing to appeal to the Conservatives of the country, says that the barriers are too low and must be raised, that the tariffs are too few and must be increased. Which trumpet is to be sounded? We are on the eve of the fight, and, if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?
Now we have this debate on the war. It is of course a war between two Christian peoples, a war between a so-called civilised country and a so-called uncivilised country, a war between two members of the League of Nations, two signatories of the same Covenant. But, most serious of all, it is a war between a white people and a coloured people. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) was associated with me and others in the inquiry that was made in relation to India. Our Empire, as was pointed out a long while ago, is not a white Empire. Five out of six of the people of this Empire are coloured people, and we welcome what was said by General Smuts recently in this connection. I wonder if hon. Members saw the message that was sent by the Moslem Association of India, asking what would be the position of their co-religionists in Abyssinia? It is not merely Africa that is responding on this matter, but India is beginning to tingle with this question as well. I was surprised at the contempt shown by Signor Mussolini for these coloured people. Did hon. Members see what he said in an interview with the "Echo de Paris" on 21st July? He said:Has the League of Nations become the tribunal before which all the negroes and uncivilised peoples, all the world's savages, can bring the great nations which have revolutionised and transformed humanity?I should not have very much regard for the League of Nations if I did not think that that was the tribunal to which they could go for the protection of their 174 interests, and I would like to reply to Signor Mussolini:Hath not the Ethiopian eyes; hath he not ears; and, if you prick him, will he not bleed?The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has had some great days in his history. He never rose higher than when, in his speech at Geneva in September, he made that declaration on behalf of the small nations and the backward peoples of the world. I am a great lover of "The Pilgrim's Progress" and I remember that Great-heart was not content to get to the Celestial City himself, but took along with him Mr. Fearing and Mr. Ready-to-Halt. The right hon. Gentleman, when he made that declaration, like Mr. Great-heart when he said:Let those who are most afraid come near to me,was standing by the principle of which Wordsworth spoke over a century ago of this country as being a bulwark for the cause of man. It is inevitable that Europe and Africa have to live together in the same world, but I am sentimentalist enough to believe that the relation of Africa to Europe will depend very largely upon whether Africa conceives of Europe in the terms of Signor Mussolini or of David Livingstone.
As regards the election, the Prime Minister told us to-day that the international question was the supreme matter at the present time. If that be so, ought it not to follow that it is essential at this time to ascertain and consolidate the national unity? My contention is that an election at this time is going to imperil that national unity in a marked degree. There is no doubt about the unity at the present time. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke at Geneva, he made a reference to the Peace Ballot, and we thank him for that. It was in marked contrast to the disparagement that we have heard in this House. The right hon. Gentleman said:The recent response of public opinion shows how completely the nation supports the Government in the full acceptance of the obligations of the League members.The fact that he made that generous acknowledgment was in marked contrast with what we had previously experienced. There is no doubt now about the unity, but what is to be the effect of this election? Did hon. Members see the message from Mr. Vernon Bartlett the other 175 day? I do not know what authority Mr. Vernon Bartlett has, but he says that the prospect of the election has already caused apprehension in Geneva, and that there is a fear on the part of some of the small nations that politics may interfere with the stand already taken. The right hon. Gentleman must have noticed, during his speech yesterday, that the cheers of his followers came when he proposed not to do anything, and that there was silence when he proposed action.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook went the other day with a deputation to the Prime Minister As the proceedings were not recorded, we have to gather what is announced, but we have been told that among those who were associated with the right hon. Gentleman and the other members of the deputation were nearly 100 Members of this House who were afraid that the disciplinary action of the League would be carried too far. That was the statement made in the papers. If we have any doubt on the matter, the position is made clear in an article by the right hon. Gentleman which appeared in the "Evening Standard" of 13th October, entitled, "Why I welcome an early Election." I would ask the attention of the House to the concluding paragraph of that article:That the result of an election fought under these circumstances will be a Conservative majority I have no doubt. But I believe it will be a majority"—and I would ask the attention of the Minister for League Affairs to this, because his name is mentioned—with a very definite mandate, not for intensifying the international crisis, but for putting the brake on Mr. Eden's activities at Geneva and getting out of the present entanglement as best we can. And that is why I welcome an early election.The importance of that is this! The right hon. Gentleman expects to get back, and I have no doubt that he will; the House would be the poorer without him; and he will have a good many others with him. What was the position in the last Session? During the main part of the last Session the time of the House was occupied in helping the Government to carry through its main proposal against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and his friends 176 who resisted it. Why were the Government successful? Because they had a majority of 400 in the House. That was the complaint which the right hon. Gentleman made night after night. Supposing that they had only had a majority of 150 or 200—merely a normal majority—where would the India Bill have been? If the Government have merely a normal majority, and the right hon. Gentleman is back, determined, as he will be, along with those who share his views, what in those circumstances is going to happen to the League of Nations? We have no quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's views, but I prophesy that in the next House of Commons we shall see what we saw in the last Session, namely, that the Government will have very largely to rely upon those who are traditionally their opponents in order to carry their own policy against their alleged supporters.
I have a great admiration for the Prime Minister, but I never heard him less convincing than he was to-day. At the end his statement with regard to the Election came to this, that, if you count Easter, if you take into consideration the time required to deal with the Finance Bill, and then the holidays, there will really be, out of the 365 days in the year, only one day on which you can count, and that will be 14th November. Macaulay came to his assistance, and it was very welcome assistance. I can quite understand the eagerness with which the quotation was taken. He said he made up his mind. What we should like to know is when the Conservative office made up its mind.
§ Mr. FOOT
They both came to the same conclusion a week ago. In order that I may be fully informed, I follow the Conservative Press very closely, and this is what I read in the "Morning Post" on 17th October:It is now known that the Prime Minister is being powerfully pressed against his inclination and the judgment of some of his most experienced advisers to expedite the election as much as possible.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I shall not interrupt again. I will only observe that that statement is entirely without any foundation.
§ Mr. FOOT
I accept that absolutely. I had one or two good points on that, but I will not now make them. The right hon. Gentleman, of course, is an honest politician, as I admit, and has a conscience. I am wondering, if we have this sort of thing under an honest Prime Minister, what we should have had under a crook. I can recall an Archbishop of Glasgow and St. Andrews back in the sixteenth century who was accused of being more of a soldier than an ecclesiastic, and of stirring up strife and bitterness, and he struck his breast and swore by his conscience that he had no association with the matter but, in striking his breast, there was heard underneath his ecclesiastical vestment the sound of steel. His accuser said, "Methinks, my lord, your conscience clatters." I only suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he really must not ask us to believe that he is not a party leader as well as a national statesman. We are to have an election in which he tells us he is going to the country as a National Government. I want to quote to him—I have taken great care in getting it—his own favourite author. I believe Mr. F. S. Oliver is one whom he closely studies. I should like to give him the warning that Mr. F. S. Oliver used in one of his books:The confidence of any people in a Government is grounded on the opinion that the Government knows its own mind. A Cabinet that is representative of conflicting views can only hope to tide over some sudden crisis. Its existence supposes a common enemy. When the crisis has passed, it can only maintain itself by the most rigorous inaction. For withstanding some temporary danger it may have considerable virtue, but for carrying through a policy it is a miserable instrument.We are going to have an election in which all the election anomalies are continued. The right hon. Gentleman's case to-day made the position worse. He said that the international position is the most serious matter. We say this is going to make the international situation very difficult. People are bewildered. It was a very wise writer who said recently:The wise statesman is he who uses the sober mood of the people to guard against the hour of delirium.The right hon. Gentleman is now using their bewilderment. He talks about armaments. I accept absolutely what he has said. If that is the formula accepting his condition, I put my name to it as a back bench Member. But surely 178 the case for armaments is a case not for an election now but for an election when the proposals upon armaments are before the people. A programme is to be carried out during, I was going to say the next few years, but the right hon. Gentleman by a wave of the hand to-day has undone the Act of Parliament and has made the period of Parliament four, and not five years. He would have been taking the country more fully into his confidence and would have been acting more in accordance with the high position that he has secured in the life of this country if he had put his proposals before us, and allowed the democracy of which he has spoken the opportunity of judging.
The party with which I am associated will go into the fight with very great difficulty. The "Times" sneered at us the other day as a small and dwindling number in the country, and they cannot tell as yet whether we are a nuisance or a reinforcement. I prophesy that before the election is over the "Times" will be speaking very respectfully to the Liberals of the country. There are a great many constituencies, where we are not able to have our candidates, where they will not be speaking about a nuisance but will be speaking in respectful terms, in constituencies where they will be hungry for the Liberal vote. I am a party man, and so is the right hon. Gentleman. He spoke the other day of a return to the dog fight. He is the last man who ought to say that. He is the man who struck down the Coalition Government of that day at the Carlton Club on the specific ground that the continuance of the Coalition was a danger to the Conservative party. When he started as Prime Minister he said: "There are some who say that the old Tory party will lose its power, will lose its identity and its independence. That was never contemplated, and never will be contemplated." He insists on the old Tory party keeping its independence, its name and its power because he thinks it is good for the country. I think the Liberal party should keep its name and its independence and its authority, because I think the country would be the poorer without that contribution. But he does not give us a chance. It is all very well for the "Times" to sneer at us, but, whether we are many or few, 179 we only ask that we shall have a strength and a representation in the House which shall correspond with our strength and influence in the country, no more and no less. To deny us that is tyranny. To deny to a fellow-citizen the political power to which he is entitled is tyranny. That was the whole meaning of tyranny in earlier days. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman extend the time and give a fair measure of reform, so that he might ascertain what is really the mind the people?
He is concerned not only for the continuance of his party. He wants the predominance of it, and he told them in his first speech as Prime Minister that he had arranged for its predominance, and he had arranged with his Liberal colleagues that they would not oppose any sitting Conservative Member who was desirous of keeping his seat. He knows that he has five out of six in the House, and he made his terms with his Liberal friends that they were not to oppose. Then we have the approval of that by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). He wrote to the Press last week approving the proposed election. I suppose the result might have been in some measure due to his influence. He came to Devonshire the other day and stated that the Liberals in the Government are the leaven that leavens the whole lump. Those were not his words, but that was the meaning. He said they impregnated the Government. What attitude does he take about that? What does he say about this Election? He spoke in our neighbourhood, where there are people working for the maintenance of their party, which is their service to the State, and he told them they must find their help elsewhere. There was another speech made at about the same time, the speech of the son-in-law of the Emperor of Ethiopia, who had seen it wise to leave one allegiance for another. If hon. Members will study the two speeches, they will find that they are remarkably similar. Ras Gugsa said he was doing it really in the interests of Abyssinia. He was hoping in that way to influence Italian opinion. There was the same exaggeration of the number of his followers—thousands one week, and hundreds the next. There was the same lavish conferment 180 of titles and honours on his followers. If the right hon. Gentleman had been here I should have told him that we intend, in spite of all our difficulty, carrying on for the same reason that the Prime Minister supports the Conservative party, because we think the country would be the poorer without that contribution. One day he and his friends will come back and, when they come back, they will be greeted just like the French general was greeted who came back after a battle had been fought, with his soldiers all tidy and clean, and the King said to him:Hang yourself, brave Crillon! We fought at Arques, and you were not there.We must defend our cause without him. In so far as we shall march prospering, it will not be through his presence. In so far as songs may inspirit us, they will not be from his lyre.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I think the House will be grateful if I restrain my natural inclination to answer the hon. Member's arguments both on the date of the Election and on the prospects of the Ottawa policy, or even on the pros and cons of the policy of proportional representation. There is only one point in the latter part of his speech, and of that of the hon. Member who preceded him, to which I wish to attract attention. I think no one who has studied the anxious situation through which this country has been passing in the last few weeks could doubt the necessity for a policy of adequate defence. I believe the whole body of the Prime Minister's supporters will welcome that part of his speech with enthusiasm, and will be prepared to defend it in the coming Election.
I wish, however, to come back to that part of the Prime Minister's speech and that of the Secretary of State yesterday which many Members of the House more particularly welcomed—the declaration that war is not in question, that no measures of military sanctions or actions calculated to lead to war, like a blockade or the closing of the Suez Canal, have ever formed any part of the Government's policy, "that the sanctions that the Government have been considering are not military but economic. The distinction is one between a boycott and a war.". I am glad that that distinction has been made so clear. I, at any rate, am now in 181 a position to enter upon this Election and to face my constituents as a whole-hearted supporter of the Government's policy of no war sanctions. It will be an encouragement to a great many of my friends on this side of the House.
My old friend and colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer upbraided me a little severely the other day for venturing to say that I would not send a single Birmingham lad to his death for Abyssinia. I accept his rebuke. I shall not offend again. I shall go to my constituents henceforward and say, "You have it on the authority of the Secretary of State and of the Government, who endorse every word that he said, that they are not prepared to send a single Birmingham lad to his death, either for Abyssinia or for Article XVI of the Covenant of the League of Nations." I am glad that that has become abundantly clear. It will be a great relief to many of us. It will be a great relief to Europe. It eases the whole situation. Only I wonder why such a clear statement could not have been made two or three months earlier. It would have been kinder to hon. and right hon. Members opposite if that statement had been made earlier. It might have relieved them of a good deal of internal embarrassment. I think that the Government, if I may use a colloquial phrase, have sold the Labour party a pup. They have led them to dismiss their old and trusted leader, and to dismiss another zealous, sometimes over-zealous, champion of their cause from their councils upon a question which we are now told never was an issue, was purely academic. That was a little unkind to the Socialist party. What I do regret is that, from the point of view of the international situation, that declaration was not made earlier, and then many of the speeches and many leading articles in this country and in other countries which have contributed to exacerbating the situation would never have been made.
The situation in the last few weeks has been terribly grave. Things have been said and questions have been asked between Governments which have not been asked since the eve of the Great War, and even if the situation is a little less strained to-day, it still remains profoundly unsatisfactory. The Stresa front, established with so much effort, has broken up, perhaps irretrievably. France 182 is divided and irritated. An old ally and friend feels a resentment which may have repercussions on our whole strategy for many years to come. What is to become of the Abyssinian position itself no one knows, but there is one thing I venture to predict—and let the House be under no delusion on the subject—whatever settlement comes, it will not be the kind of settlement to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pledged himself yesterday—a settlement equally satisfactory to Abyssinia, Italy and the League of Nations. The whole future, which seemed so fair in Europe only a few months ago, is now dark and uncertain.
The case I wish to make to the House—and I hope that the House will be patient with me, for I am making a case which I know is unpopular, and I make it in all sincerity—is that the unsatisfactory situation in which we find ourselves, and may for long find ourselves, is due to the abandonment by the Government of the policy towards the League of Nations, and more particularly towards Article XVI of the Covenant, which they pursued for some 10 years, and to the adoption of a policy which, up to the last few months, they repudiated and even treated with scorn. From the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State one might have thought that it was all so simple, a mere question of fulfilling our loyal obligations to the League, and of fulfilling the Covenant in the letter and in the spirit. The matter has never been as simple as all that. From the very outset there have been two schools of thought about the League and about our obligations under the League. There has been the school, to which I belong and to which for years, I believe, the Government of this country belonged, that regards the League as a great institution, an organisation for promoting co-operation and harmony among the nations, for bringing about understanding, a permanent Round Table of the nations in conference, a standing machinery for conciliation for the benefit of all who were willing to be conciliated, the centre and focus of innumerable beneficent international activities, growing greatly in authority and influence and in universality, provided always that it did not have at the background the threat of coercion.
183 There is the other school which thinks that the actual Articles of the Covenant, concocted in the throes of the peace settlement and in that atmosphere of optimism which led us to expect £10,000,000,000 or more in reparations from Germany, constitute a sacrosanct dispensation, that they have introduced a new world order, and would, if they were only loyally adhered to, abolish war for good and all. The Covenant, I admit, as originally drafted, embodied both aspects, and it was because the Covenant contained the Clauses that stood for coercion and for definite automatic obligations that the United States went back on the founder of the League of Nations and repudiated it. From that moment the keystone was taken out of the whole arch of any League of coercion. Indeed, a few years later, the mere suggestion that sanctions might be applied, and the mere formal disapproval of the League, were sufficient to send another great Power out of the League and to drive it to courses which it would otherwise never have had recourse to. The whole policy of coercion is self-destructive. The League is now undergoing a trial which may well prove disastrous to it. In this matter, as in other matters, it is the letter that killeth. The letter of the Covenant is the one thing which is likely to kill the League of Nations.
The issue raised by Italian aggression to-day is not a new issue. The League was confronted with it from the outset, and we are not for the first time facing the issue of moral obligation and the case of honour. We are not for the first time asking, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did at Glasgow the other day, whether we could act otherwise without holding ourselves up to shame to our children and their children's children. It was an issue with which the League was confronted more than once in the years immediately following its formation. There was the issue raised by the Polish occupation of Vilna and the issue of the Italian occupation of Corfu. There were those, the believers in the League of coercion, who endeavoured to see whether the efficacy of the League, from their point of view, could not be made good, and who endeavoured to find ways and means of making its action swifter and more 184 efficient. They embodied their views in what is known as the Geneva Protocol. The Government of winch I had the honour to be a Member, as well as my right hon. Friend here, with the complete support of all the Dominions, unhesitatingly rejected the Geneva Protocol. The reasons for rejecting that Protocol were reasons which in fact and in substance were a rejection of Article XVI, just as much as they were a rejection of the Protocol itself. I hope that the House will pardon me if I remind hon. Members of one or two passages in the declaration made to the League on behalf of the Government by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham. In that document my right hon Friend told the League that:The League of Nations in its present shape is not the League designed by the framers of the Covenant.He went on to say that:In view of the fact that the whole situation as regards sanctions has been transformed, the degree to which the machinery of the Government has been weakened by the non-membership of certain great States, amounts, especially as regards economic sanctions, to a transformation.He went on to argue that with a united world the economic sanction would be a weapon of incalculable power, but that now it was something very different from the weapon originally devised by the authors of the Covenant.But all this has been changed by the mere existence of powerful economic communities outside the limits of the League. It might force trade into unaccustomed channels, but it could hardly stop it, and though the offending State might undoubtedly suffer, there is no presumption that it would be crushed or even that it might suffer most.These are words as apposite to-day as they were 10 years ago. But it was not only from the point of view of practical criticism that the British Government of that day objected to the principle of sanctions. They rejected it because they believed it to be contrary to the spirit in which we wished to work a League of Nations. There is a later passage in which my right hon. Friend said of this attempt to make sanctions efficacious, that it destroyed the balance and altered the spirit of the Covenant.All the fresh emphasis laid on sanctions; the new occasions discovered for their employment; the elaboration of military procedure, seem to suggest the idea that the vital business of the League is not so much friendly co-operation and harmony as 185 to preserve peace by organising war, and, it may be, war on the largest scale.… It certainly seems to His Majesty's Government that anything which fosters the idea that the main business of the League is with war rather than peace, might weaken it in its ultimate task of diminishing the causes of war.It is quite true. The case I wish to put to the House is that the stand taken by His Majesty's Government then and the arguments which they used were not arguments merely against the Protocol, but arguments against the whole conception of a League based on economic and military sanctions. But His Majesty's Government were not content with that. They were prepared with their alternative, and the alternative was, admitting the impossibility and undesirability of sanctions imposed universally in any and every case, to substitute the co-operation of particular nations for a definite purpose, for particular tasks of peace. That was the policy of Locarno, and the policy of Locarno, if I may venture to say so to my right hon. Friend, was not merely an alternative to the Protocol but an alternative to Article 16. After all, unless it was that, it was meaningless. The obligations under Locarno are the same in essence as the obligations under Article 16. If Article 16 was still in full and literal effect—and no one has suggested enforcing it literally to-day, Locarno was purely superfluous. Indeed, if I may quote another authority, one of the framers of the Covenant, General Smuts, he defined the position very clearly in a remarkable speech not very long ago. He said:Locarno establishes the principle of limited sanctions, of a smaller group within the League entering into mutual defensive arrangements under the aegis and subject to the control of the League. This does not throw the obligation to use force willy-nilly on all Members, but binds only those who on grounds of their special situation and interests choose to enter into such arrangements. If the fear obsession in Europe can be removed only by sanctions, then let it be on some such limited basis and within the circumscribed area of those interested, and not by a departure from the principles of universality and conciliation enshrined for ever in the Covenant. It is for these principles of conciliation and universality that I would enter my plea to-day.That was the policy consistently followed and followed with success by His Majesty's Government. Locarno was only one of a series. It was followed up by steady efforts to bring together 186 nations in similar arrangements, and in turn to link these arrangements with each other, until we came at Stresa, within sight of a general linking up of groups, each responsible for its own tasks, which would have given a real measure of security. The Locarno policy admits of swift and prompt action. The whole peace of Europe was threatened with catastrophe a little more than a year ago when a plot by Germany to seize Austria all but matured. Could the League have stopped it? It was stopped by the immediate mobilisation, in accordance with a previous understanding among the Powers immediately concerned, of the Italian forces on the Brenner, and whatever we may say about Signor Mussolini's conduct in connection with this Abyssinian problem Europe owes him a deep debt of gratitude for the promptness of the action by which he saved her from disaster 15 months ago. Nor did we under the Locarno policy in any way reduce our support of the League as such. One of the first things we did was to submit the case for Mosul to the arbitrament of the League. We did our share in contributing to the League settlement of the Greco-Bulgarian and Yugo Slav-Hungarian difficulties. But these were cases where the League was used as a council of arbitration and of conciliation with no thought of coercion in the background.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
Will the right hon. Gentleman quote the exact words of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in which he says that the Government will not carry out the obligations of Article 16?
§ Mr. AMERY
I quoted those words which to my mind show clearly that the policy of the British Government was an alternative both to the Protocol and to the Articles to which I referred. The Government by its actions, which speak louder than words, showed that it did not regard itself pledged in honour to a literal fulfilment of Article 16.
§ Mr. AMERY
Japan in Manchuria and Shanghai. If it were a matter of a pledge of honour we were just as much obligated then as now. The reason why the British Government refused to be obligated was not cowardice on the part of the Government but because it did 187 not take the view of the obligations of the Government which hon. Members opposite take and which apparently has been taken by the Government in the last few months. If hon. Members want quotations I will give them a few; I am only too happy to do so—quotations to show that the Government repudiated the whole idea of what is called the collective peace system. On 23rd November, 1934, the Prime Minister said:It is curious that there is growing up among the Labour party support for what is called a collective peace system. A collective peace system in my view is perfectly impracticable in view of the facts today, that the United States is not yet, to our infinite regret, a member of the League of Nations, and that in the last two or three years two great Powers, Germany and Japan, have both retired from it. It is hardly worth considering, when these be the facts, whether a collective peace system could be undertaken.The Prime Minister may dismiss that as having been academic. On 11th March last he said:What people so often forget, when they talk airily about collective security and sanctions, the Covenant and so forth, is that the membership of the League is not universal.… Until a time, which we hope may come, when a system of collective security may be devised, what else is left but to try to secure this corner and that corner in the different parts of Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1935; col. 47, Vol. 299.]And then he went on to explain the whole policy of Locarno as a clear alternative. That was on 11th March, six weeks after Signor Mussolini first informed us of his intentions about Abyssinia, three weeks after the demonstrative departure of two Italian divisions for Africa. It was hardly an academic statement then, but a statement that must have been made with full knowledge of the situation that was growing up in connection with Abyssinia. I will give another quotation, from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir Austen Chamberlain) pointing out the value of the League as an instrument of conciliation. He qualified that by making it clear that it could only be that as between nations who were at any rate prepared to be conciliated and who had got into an impossible position.
§ Mr. AMERY
No, I will come to the right hon. Gentleman's exact words. He spoke of the fear that there may come a timewhen some nation will make war, not by accident, but of set purpose, in its own time, to achieve some object of national ambition, national aggrandisement or national revenge which it cannot satisfy by peaceful means.That is where the real danger lies. That is what causes unrest in the world to-day, and as against aggression of that kind it is untrue to say that the League does now, or can in any time which anyone can predict, guarantee the nation which is the victim of the attack or the world at large."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1935; col. 73, Vol. 299.]Later in that same speech in answer to a speech by the present Leader of the Opposition, asking why economic sanctions were not taken in the Far East, he said:They ought not to be necessary. We ought not to have to take any steps of that kind. Do they mean warlike intervention? You would not get this country, you would not get our people—it is not our governors, but our people—to consent to sending their sons out to die, for all these glorious phrases which the right hon. Gentleman opposite so used and so abused, in order to destroy Manchukuo or in order to enforce peace in South America.… It is no good contending anything of the kind. If the Covenant meant that, the Covenant would be unworkable because the nations of the world would not risk all that war means, for such a motive alone, where it is so little certain what the end of their intervention would be."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1933; col. 75, Vol. 299.]That is where the nations of the world are standing to-day. War sanctions are dead, stillborn. My right hon. Friend went on to plead the successful alternative policy which was embodied in the regional pacts, the policy of Locarno. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. I. Foot) found fault with me for venturing to say on 29th July that I did not believe that any warlike action on behalf of Abyssinia would be taken by any nation.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
The words were not "warlike action". The words were:Italy, it seems, is about to swallow up Abyssinia, and Abyssinia will be swallowed up unless she can defend herself. No one else is going to defend her, and France and no other nation in Europe would come to the help of Abyssinia because they would not endanger their friendship with Italy.
§ Mr. AMERY
I do not think that differs from the view I took. When I said defence I meant real defence, not an abstention from Italian lemons or Italian vermouth. Two days before 29th July, Lord Londonderry, who speaks for the Government in the House of Lords, said:In the Government's view the League was no new federation or confederation of States for the purpose of imposing its will upon any single nation or group of nations by the exercise of physical force. It existed for the pacific settlement of international disputes—not for the abolition of war by means of war. On the other hand, the Socialists' view was nothing more or less than the employment in the last resort of compulsion by force of arms.That is the view adopted by the Socialist party; that is the view somewhat hesitatingly in the face of direct questions which the Leader of the Liberal party adopted. But for ten years at any rate the view that we were under an obligation to carry out Article 16 of the Covenant, to carry out sanctions, has been repudiated by the British Government in action and speech, and through that repudiation it has been able to carry on good work which it would never have been able to carry out if it had pursued this fatal policy of a league of force.
Of course, that policy has had its advocates. It was championed by France. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) will remember the eloquent speech of M. Paul-Boncour, "The Protocol is dead, Long live the Protocol." It has been believed in by all those small nations who look to the League for a permanent guarantee for their territorial acquisitions. It is also represented by that curious crowd which always gathers around Geneva and gives it such an air of unreality, of journalists, hangers on of lesser Powers and American tourists—they have always stood for the Covenant, the whole Covenant and nothing but the Covenant. Whenever a statesman, from this country or any other, has been hesitant or cautious on some comprehensive resolution he has been described as a mean and puny creature, a traitor to the League. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary knows very well what I mean. On the other hand, they have never hesitated to praise to the skies anyone who has spoken in the authentic language of the greater and 190 lesser Geneva catechism, who has been ready to take the stage as a 100 per cent. Geneva he-man.
I know that view is also held in this country. Lord Cecil has taught that view persistently throughout. It has been supported by a, good many on the other side of the House of Commons. In the peace ballot last year he was able to launch a direct challenge to the whole position taken up by the Government. I wish the Government had answered that challenge by direct argument as it answered the Protocol. Instead, it took the line of saying that the way in which the questions were put was misleading. The Conservative Central Organisation, the National Unionist Association, were not prepared to co-operate with the peace ballot but made it clear that in their opinion the questions were misleading, because it was impossible to vote for question (A), economic sanctions, without being ready to vote for question (B), military sanctions. That was the view taken then. In further reply to Lord Cecil, Colonel Herbert said:Supposing the economic blockade was not enough. Is it suggested that the nations of the world should then withdraw from the blockade? That would mean a collapse of international action in support of peace.That suggestion has now become a fact. The criticisms of Colonel Herbert were moderate. We had them in much stronger language from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham said, with regard to the framing of the questions by the authors of the peace ballot:No graver mis-statement of the issues at stake has ever been perpetrated even by a reckless partisan in the heat and fury of a contested election. The result will be proclaimed by its promoters as a national verdict. To me it appears to be little better than an attempt to obtain subscriptions by a fraudulent prospectus.[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I hope that my hon. Friend will not cheer too soon. If he will refer to the "Hints for Speakers" issued from the Central Office on the 17th October, and available for his use, he will find that, after some chaff about the Socialist leaders, it says:The National Government gave real and united expression to the views of the people as expressed in the ballot.The Conservative party has been carried fast and far in the last few months! 191 Some of us plain men, standing on the bank while the canoe seems to us to be sliding towards Niagara, wonder how these things have come about. I hope that I have not trespassed too long on the time of the House, but I have brought these things up not in order to embarrass the Government, but to emphasise my point, that I wish they had pursued the policy that was pursued in the past. I want to know why the policy which was pursued so successfully and fruitfully for many years has been abandoned in order to pursue a policy which they formerly rejected and disapproved. It seems to me that within a few months the new policy has destroyed the greater part of the constructive work in which the Government has been engaged for years and is still very far indeed from achieving the aim that it apparently set out to achieve.
Let me come back to the situation as it stood at the beginning of this year. I do not suppose that there has ever been a time since the War when the situation in Europe was better than it was in the early months of this year. The long bickering and jealousy between France and Italy, which locked up so large a part of the forces of both on their mutual frontier, had been brought to a close, and following upon that their associated powers, who had been in continual strife, had been brought closer together. From Antwerp to Angora a series of interlocking peace arrangements was being created, prepared to welcome Germany as part of the general scheme of peace, but strong enough to keep Germany in check if she meant mischief. Where is that fabric now? It was in the middle of this situation that Signor Mussolini raised the Abyssinian question. Indeed, an ill-chosen moment. Nothing could be more indefensible than the whole manner, arrogant yet furtive, provocative and challenging, in which he raised it. But it remained an issue of immense importance and urgency.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said the other day that there was no alternative to the policy we pursued of leaving the matter to the League. I should have thought that this was a case where we and France should have come together at once and have insisted on taking the matter up with Signor Mussolini; in doing so I think the part 192 of prudent statesmanship would have included consideration of certain facts, one of which was the vital importance of making sure of the whole Stresa system. If Signor Mussolini recklessly endangered that system, as he did, statesmanship should have tried to get back to it and not to have taken his action as a mere excuse for putting the whole thing upon an entirely different footing.
There were other considerations in the situation, considerations affecting this country. I am thinking not so much of our old and traditional friendship with Italy as of the long association between Italy and ourselves in Africa. It was at a time of great danger and anxiety in this country, when our scattered little garrisons in the Eastern Sudan were barely holding their own against Osman Digna's forces that we invited Italy to go to Massowah and to make a beginning of an East African Empire. It was with our approval and agreement that she got a Treaty with Menelik to establish an Italian protectorate over that country. We were the first to recognise that. That protectorate was destroyed when Menelik tore up the Treaty and defeated the Italian army at Adowa. Some of us are old enough to remember the wave of indignation and anger that swept through England when we heard the news of the fall of Khartoum and the consequent failure to save the Sudan from the barbarous forces of the Khalifa. But the humiliation of Adowa to Italy was infinitely greater. I need not recall the terrible story of the sufferings of the Italian soldiers, the cession of territory, and all that Italy had to suffer because Menelik tore up the Treaty that he had signed.
I want to draw a deeper parallel. The fall of Khartoum and the Italian defeat at Adowa were two great disasters to humanity. The result of the fall of Khartoum was a welter of carnage and destruction throughout that vast region of the Sudan, in which, as described in Slatin's "Fire and Sword," a population of 15,000,000 was reduced to less than 3,000,000 in barely 20 years. There is no part of our recent history of which we are more proud, and of which we have better right to be proud, than the re-conquest of the Sudan and what we have done for the people of the Sudan in the succeeding years. But even in those 193 years we have not brought back the population to what it was before barbarism became rampant. I would, however, remind the House that we reconquered the Sudan by an act of aggression, choosing our time when we thought we were able to reconquer it. If there had been Article 16 of the Covenant in force in those days the Khalifa might have appealed against the action of our Government to the League of Nations. What should we have said if under those circumstances some Power, boasting of its friendship for us, and its sympathy with our desires, felt it to be in duty bound not only to act as our judge but as our prosecutor?
While I am on the subject of aggression I should say that I think it is one of the cardinal weaknesses of the Covenant that it makes the whole test and touchstone of its schemes for the future peace of the world the mere act of aggression. When you take the long view, when you take the view that history takes, you will find that history thinks much of the underlying merits of a quarrel, even more of the results of a conflict, but it attaches comparatively little importance as to who began it. I could quote many instances to illustrate my point. I will only quote one which is no doubt in the recollection of most hon. Members. In 1912 the Balkan States by an act of concerted and entirely unprovoked aggression fell upon Turkey. Yet everybody to-day recognises that that was an act of liberation for the subject people which Turkey then misgoverned. Everybody recognises that the Turkish nation itself was thereby released from an impossible task of Empire and that at least this gave them some hope of reforming themselves within their own country. If the League of Nations had been in existence then and if there had been great Powers prepared to press for a policy of sanctions and to enforce sanctions in order to bring about a settlement which Turkey could accept, a settlement consonant with her sovereignty, would that have been a satisfactory solution? I have perhaps wandered a little from my argument, although it bears very much on the whole of the underlying situation.
I have said that the consequences of the defeat of Adowa were as terrible to humanity as the fall of Khartoum. After the fall of Adowa for the next few years Abyssinian warriors swept over the 194 neighbouring country and by fire and sword, massacre and slave raiding carved out an Empire two or three times as large as Abyssinia proper, an Empire sustained by bloodshed, based on millions of actual slaves and millions more of serfs. That is the Empire and not a small nation struggling to be free with which we are concerned in the issue to-day. It is an issue between two Imperialisms, black and white. What always interests me is how those people who are so concerned at the least suggestion of any economic exploitation of darker races by white races, even if the dark races make great progress under the white races, seem entirely indifferent to any kind of slavery oppression and tyranny as long as it is exercised by one dark race over another.
When we consider these things as well as the difficulties of economic expansion with which Italy has been increasingly confronted in the last few years surely we should have adopted a somewhat less negative and pedantic attitude. I know that my view may not be approved in many quarters of the House, but I think that we should have got together with France and Italy and devised some scheme by which under a condominium or mandate certain if not all of the non-Amharic provinces of Abyssinia should be transferred to Italian rule. The whole thing could have been done by agreement, and I have no doubt that such agreement would have been ratified at Geneva. Moreover, it would have been in accordance with the true spirit of Article 19. The idea would have required courage, and it would have aroused a howl of indignation in many quarters but it would have brought about a solution, and I am afraid that such a solution will still have to be the policy when our policy of economic vexation has been tried out.
Unfortunately both sides shirked a frank discussion of the situation and we took the easiest line of leaving it to the routine of the League. Take the next stage. We sent as our representative at the League of Nations some one who had not been recently converted to the view of coercive sanctions but who was an out-and-out believer in the doctrine of coercive sanctions. I know that he was not acting alone. I know that the Little Entente, very concerned with the Italian attitude towards Hungarian claims for revision, were naturally in sympathy with 195 the line we took. I know that Mr. Litvinoff, that sinister figure of the Soviet wolf in Geneva sheep's clothes, has always been pressing for coercive sanctions. Still in the eyes of Europe we took the lead throughout these proceedings and thus made it a conflict between Italy and ourselves. Was it desirable that we should have done so? After all, we were in a peculiar position. There is something rather humorous in the spectacle of a gorged and sated old lion reproving a hungry young tiger for his carnivorous tendencies; of course, sympathising with him, but saying that his appetite must be satisfied in strict accordance with the rules of the vegetarian society of which the lion was the last joined member. We might well have been content to fulfil the role of jury without being jury and prosecutor as well. Our attitude and policy were calculated inevitably to make a man of Mussolini's character even more adamant.
I must apologise for having kept the House so long, but I must ask, where have we got? We have not prevented war. I fear that we have wrecked the whole fabric of European security and given Germany an entirely new power and authority. We are now relying on passive economic sanctions, but I do not know how far we shall get with them. We have had a few reservations, and somewhat mild reservations in the atmosphere of Geneva tend to be reflected in noisy and vehement protests in the countries directly affected. The League is to meet again at the end of this month to decide when these sanctions shall be adopted. I wonder how many more reservations and delays will intervene. If the whole system were watertight there yet remain, as we foresaw in 1925, so many great Powers outside the League that the most we can do is to irritate, hamper, and embarrass Italy, certainly not stop her military operations. If that is the case how can we bring about any settlement—
§ Mr. AMERY
I have not intervened in many foreign debates, and I have listened with patience while I have heard views developed at enormous length with which I do not agree, and I am only now expressing a view which, from the 196 correspondence I have received, is held by an enormous body of Conservatives throughout the country. There is little prospect of these passive sanctions, even if they were made watertight, doing anything but perhaps slowing down the rate of the Italian conquest. There is nothing in them to make Italy surrender the territory she may have occupied. There are to be no war sanctions. Even if there were, so far from strengthening the League they would mean complications throughout the world and put an end to the idea of the League of Nations. The appeal I make to the Government is, in the first place, to congratulate them on having called a definite halt to the idea that we are going to progress from one sanction to another until we force the issue of war, and to ask them to consider, when they have tried out these economic sanctions, Which may or may not succeed, whether the path of wisdom will not be to go back to a support of that League of conciliation, which they followed for so many years, with the hope that other nations will be brought back into the League. They never will be brought back into the kind of League you are now setting up. A League which is universal and which exists to promote goodwill, although it may have no coercive power, will have infinitely greater authority. Meanwhile in the world such as it is to-day let us think well of the position to which we have been brought. Let us strengthen our own defences and beware how we enter unnecessary quarrels. In the anxious and difficult days before us, no one knows how anxious they will be, our one sheet anchor is the strength of the British Navy and its sister services, coupled with a foreign policy, prudent conciliatory and non-aggressive, seeking a quarrel with no one, taking part in no unnecessary quarrel, but concerned first and foremost with the security and unity of the British Empire.
§ 5.40 p.m.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is well that the point of view expressed by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) should be stated in this House because it undoubtedly represents a very considerable body of opinion on the Conservative side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Gentleman criticised the policy of the 197 Government in reference to the Abyssinian dispute. He criticised their attitude towards the League of Nations, criticised it out and out, through and through, up and down, and a good deal roundabout. He made it quite clear that he was opposed to the action of the Government and that he would only be reconciled to their policy if it was sufficiently futile, so long as they do not press it too hard; it must be done gently so as not to hurt anybody. When it is thoroughly ineffective he approves of the policy of the Government. What I want to call attention to especially at this particular phase of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman opposes the policy of the Government, that there can be no doubt of that in the mind of anyone who listened to him. The deputation which he headed the other day showed that he has a considerable number of sympathisers in this House and in the House of Peers. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledged the other day that hon. Members on the Opposition benches and sitting below the Gangway had given support to the Government.
There is going to be an Election, and the right hon. Gentleman who opposes the Government fundamentally in the one great policy of action they have, and those colleagues who sympathise with him, will get the full support of the machinery of the Government, but those who have given support to the Government in this crisis are going to be opposed with the whole resources at the disposal of the Government. It is well that the electors of the country should realise this. Any discussion of these matters under present conditions is something of a farce. The Prime Minister realises it. When he comes to unemployment he relegates the discussion of this problem, which affects millions of households, to the country. He says that we can discuss Abyssinia but the conditions in Durham and South Wales cannot be discussed here; they must be discussed in the country. I agree to this extent, that any discussion of these great issues under present conditions is a mockery, and I do not propose to continue it.
I want to put a few questions to the Government because we cannot discuss these issues unless we know the facts. I would like to say one word about the 198 Prime Minister's very entertaining defence of the present Election. He came to the conclusion, by a process of elimination, that November was the only possible month and the 14th the only defensible date in November. The first elections I remember—and I think my memory goes back even further than the Prime Minister's—were in March. I just recollect the Election of 1868 and as far as my memory goes it was in March. That was Mr. Disraeli. In 1874 the Election was also in March and that again was Mr. Disraeli. Now those two dates were chosen by no mean personality—one who knew something about the conditions. Most Elections have been held on dates ranging from about March to June.
There is a warning contained in the statement of the Prime Minister—a warning which may not so much concern me but will concern those who may be sitting in Opposition, whether they are now on this side of the House or on the other side. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of four years as the term of a Parliament and of November as the right time for an Election. It is a warning to the Opposition, in October or November, never to support His Majesty's Government during those fatal months because it is a sure method of compassing their own destruction. That is a very good lesson for us to learn. But there was one thing which struck me as being very remarkable as a justification of the General Election, namely, the statement that there is a lull at the present moment in international affairs. That is an amazing statement. Can the right hon. Gentleman recall a moment since the Great War when the position was more sinister? If it is a lull it must be because the Government have given guarantees.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Samuel Hoare) indicated dissent.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Secretary of State shakes his head. If he says that no guarantees have been given by the Government to Italy then I cannot understand the lull. When I made a statement some time ago about economic sanctions my right hon. Friend who is now sitting opposite practically said that that was war.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Yes, that is quite right, but if it was war against Germany it must also be war against Italy—if it is war at all. In a sense that is true. It is economic war. But a lull—when you have been organising a stranglehold on Italy and saying that she is not to sell to anyone and that no one is to buy her goods. You have worked together 50 nations to break her down and that is a lull. What an amazing statement. I want to ask a question about that. These economic sanctions are economic war. It is the first time it is true that the experiment has been tried. The Foreign Secretary talks about this being a great experiment. It is a tremendous experiment. I am sorry that we have not taken a different line but this is not the time to argue it. I have already put my views in regard to it. But economic sanctions may go on for years and may produce greater differences among the boycotters than between the boycotters and the boycotted. The situation is full of possibilities of recrimination, of misunderstanding, of evasion and it is no use pretending otherwise. It is economic war and you have declared it.
The particular goods you are going to exclude you have not decided. You will decide that on 31st October and I am told that the decision will be put into operation on 10th November or six weeks after the beginning of the war. But whenever you have a war the first duty of a Government is to give information as to what has happened—official information—not speeches in the House of Commons. No speech, however skilful, however lucid, however authoritative, can give the whole course of negotiations which have been continuing over 12 months. The Foreign Secretary said all this had been going on incessantly for 12 months. He cannot in the course of an hour, however compendious his statement may be, tell us what has happened. There were some vital things which he left completely obscure yesterday and about which the country is entitled to know. In order to concentrate on them I propose to put a series of questions rather than to enter into controversy, because the controversy, as the Prime Minister said, will be in the country. But it ought to be on the basis of ascertained facts. In every other case a White Paper has always been published after a declaration of war.
200 I shall invite the courtesy of the Minister for League of Nations Affairs to give me an answer to my questions and I assure him that they will be very relevant to the whole situation. They will be questions which will elucidate the position. The first question which I put concerns a statement made by the Foreign Secretary yesterday which I have never seen before on this matter. If he tells me that it has been made before, I accept that on the spot, but it struck me, as one who has some acquaintance with diplomatic language, as a very remarkable statement. He said that France, in January, had disinterested herself economically in Abyssinia. "Disinterested herself" has a meaning in diplomatic language. If it means anything it means a free hand.
§ Sir S. HOARE indicated dissent.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Economically. I used the word "economically." It means a free hand economically. Will the House bear with me while I put the conditions under which that statement is made? As I said, I have not seen that phrase used before. It is the first time in my knowledge at any rate that it has been used and let the House realise what it means. It was the consideration given by France in return for tremendous concessions made by Italy. I am putting that in order to show that it means something which is really very big and we ought to know that. There was a quarrel about Tunis. You had the claims of Italy in Tunis. It was more or less like the sort of issue which arose between ourselves and France in Egypt. You had the French claims—not quite the same, but in the main you had the same differences of opinion. The Entente between France and Britain was based upon our disinteresting ourselves in Morocco and giving France a free hand, France, on the other hand, withdrawing her claims in Egypt. There is an African precedent not on all fours—none of these precedents are—but at any rate there was a tremendous concession made to France by Italy.
What was the result? It shows the importance with which it was regarded. It was not a mere question of shares in a railway in Eritrea. That was a small matter. But France is able practically to leave her Italian frontier unprotected. 201 I am told that France values that concession as 18 divisions—half the whole demand of Hitler for the German army. That is a tremendous concession. Where there is an agreement which has these tremendous results, where the concessions are of very great magnitude and where France, in return, says, "We disinterest ourselves in Abyssinia economically," it means something. There was another circumstance to show that it meant a little more than the right to concessions in Abyssinia to work minerals or to sink oil wells there. Signor Mussolini was at that time sending troops there. He was building up an army at the beginning of that time. The moment the agreement was made he mobilised two divisions of regular troops. He organised 70,000 Blackshirts soon after this. If anyone takes the trouble to look up the telegrams in the "Times" he will find it all recorded. What does it mean? It was not merely for concessions in Abyssinia. It was not merely a question of shares in the Eritrean railway. You do not for that require an army of over 100,000 men such as was sent there soon after that agreement. The first question I ask is: Were the Government made cognisant of the terms of the agreement and of the fact that France promised to disinterest herself economically—I am using the phrase because it is very significant—in Abyssinia? Did we give any promise of the same kind?
§ Sir S. HOARE indicated dissent.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Well, that is important. I take it that on the first question, namely, were we told that France had disinterested herself economically, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs will give me an answer later. That is very important. Any Foreign Minister hearing a phrase of that kind, immediately after the sending of troops there, would know at once what it meant. Abyssinia knew, and appealed to the League.
The second question—and this is all upon the speech delivered yesterday by the Foreign Secretary—is this. He said, "The delegations at Stresa"—I am giving the substance, and he will tell me if I am quoting him inadequately, because it is important that I should not—"interchanged views on this subject." 202 What delegations? There were only three men who mattered in those delegations. There were two from this country. One was the Prime Minister and the other was the Foreign Secretary; they mattered—the delegation for us. The only man that mattered in the Italian delegation was Signor Mussolini. Did they interchange one word at Stresa? Were there any conversations between the only members of the delegations that mattered? I wonder what was the impression in the House yesterday when the right hon. Gentleman said that the delegations interchanged views. Most people would have come to the conclusion that that meant the principal delegates. I should have thought so. We were told that they discussed German disarmament. Why were the Abyssinian delegates taken there if it was only to discuss Germany? Besides, the German disarmament resolutions have come to nought. The thing that becomes important from the point of view of action at the present moment is Abyssinia, and I ask whether at these conversations Signor Mussolini was present with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. If not, what was the use of relegating the discussion to experts and clerks who had no authority? I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Who took part in those discussions? I think we ought to know, because Abyssinia by that time had appealed for the second time to the League, and troops were simply flocking to Eritrea to strike. He would not have sent all those masses of troops, with packs and great guns, merely to defend there. It was quite unnecessary, and they were obviously to strike. As far as I have heard, never a word passed between the one man who mattered in Italy and the two men who, whether they mattered or not, at least represented the British Cabinet at Stresa.
Then I should like to ask another question upon that. I asked, Who took part? What were the conversations? Did the Italian delegation tell us what they were after, and what was our reply? If there had been a White Paper, we should have been told. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday very skilfully glided over that and said there were conversations, but he never told us what they were about, what was said, or whether Signor Mussolini revealed his purpose. In so far 203 as the public are concerned, I am bound to say that I think he has been perfectly straightforward in his declarations from beginning to end. He has never concealed what he was after. If he did it in public, would he have concealed it in private in a conversation with the delegations? We have placed an embargo. It is no use talking about its being an embargo on Italy as well as on Abyssinia. As far as practical purposes are concerned, it was an embargo upon Abyssinia, because the Italians had resources of their own, but suppose they had not. There was a very remarkable statement made in a Conservative paper yesterday morning as to what France sent to Italy between January and September. It went on till September. Germany sent a total of 478 tons of the products of the distillation of coal. Those of us who worked at the Ministry of Munitions know what that means. It is practically what is known as T.N.T; it is the material for high explosives. In 1934 there were no exports of that kind to Italy from France, but 478 tons, not of explosive shells, but of explosives, were sent between January and September, three months after the embargo, from France for bombs and shells. Here is another item which is just as significant. During the same period, 697 tons of glycerine; that is for the great guns—cordite.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Did I say Germany? It is of France, not Germany. This is France, and that is where the point is very important. Let me repeat it. The French sent to Italy, of the products of the distillation of coal, which we know as T.N.T., 478 tons from January to September—three months after the embargo. That includes three months of the embargo. Before that, France was entitled to send the material, because there was no undertaking not to do so. There was 697 tons of glycerine sent, and that continued up to 30th September. Anybody knows how important that is as a war material, but Italy might say, "We shall want that for our own commercial produce." The other, however, is a totally different matter. Did we know all that? Were we aware that while we 204 were imposing an embargo and, before the embargo, letting it be known that we were refusing licences—it is no use saying that no licences were applied for, because, of course, if it were known that none would be granted, it was no use manufacturing—did we know that during that time France was practically supplying the whole of this enormous quantity of high explosives?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. I inquired, and I did not say anything about it till I got the reply. They are official figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "From whom?"] I do not think I am bound to answer that, but I did make that investigation, and I got the reply. I could give privately to the right hon. Gentleman the particular official, but I decline to give it here. On the understanding, however, that the right hon. Gentleman does not give it away, because that would not be fair, I will give him the actual document which I have, and he can judge for himself, because I thought it was so startling that I did not put the question until I had had this investigation made. There you are. I think it is rather important that we should know how the position stands. I am sorry to put these questions, but they are really relevant.
Now I come to another question. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday used phrases, and he knows how to use them in such a way that they do not attract particular attention. He has much more skill than he pretends. He has the skill, and the Prime Minister has too, of Marc Antony—"I am no orator." They are both as cunning orators as I have heard. I admire their skill, and I wish I possessed it. I give the phrase which the right hon. Gentleman used. I am sorry I have not his actual words, but again he can correct me if I am wrong. The word that struck me was, that he said it was necessary that countries which were boycotting should share the risk and the loss. He used the word "loss." That has a real meaning. There was a committee appointed to deal with sanctions. As far as I can see, the only thing it did was to appoint a sub-committee, but I am not making a point about that. In 205 the report of the sub-committee they recommended that the losses of those who enforced economic sanctions should be shared. They used the same word.
In the discussions at Geneva one of the very ablest men there was M. Titulescu, a very able man. He is the Rumanian Foreign Minister, and he was breast-high for economic sanctions—I think, quite sincerely. But there he is—from a poor country—and when he guaranteed that he would not make loans to Italy, I rather smiled. But when you came to the sale of goods, that was a real thing, because Italy buys its oil very largely from Rumania, and although our exports are about £8,000,000 or £9,000,000, and theirs probably would not be more than £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, it matters more to them than it does to us. He put forward this claim; he pressed it. I think that Yugoslavia is in practically the same position. Sixty per cent. of the meat that was sent to Eritrea came from that country. They are a poor peasant population, and they pressed upon us the question of compensation and of sharing the losses.
The question I put to the Minister for League of Nations Affairs is: Have we given any undertaking about this? Have we told them that it will be considered, that we will go into the matter? When a great country like ourselves gives a promise of that kind, it means a good deal more than a mere bargain, because they say: "Great Britain promised it, and therefore they will see that there is no loss." Is it going to be discussed before sanctions come into operation? There is what is called the breathing space—but not for Abyssinia, not for Italy. Let the right hon. Gentleman look at the "Times" to-day about the troops that started from Naples. In the course of the last three days, 16,000 men have left and 20 more troopships are loading up. That is the breathing space. During this breathing space can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether these things will be discussed. After all, it is an agreement ad referendum. It is not a final agreement which has been signed by anybody. I am not sure that the agreement which the right hon. Gentleman signed is anything beyond a provisional one subject to discussion here. None of the delegates were plenipotentiaries. They have all to come home and discuss the matter with 206 the various interests, and they will go back with this phrase about sharing the losses. How far have we gone? We ought to know what our agreements are.
May I ask another question? There is no doubt that something has happened in the last few days. There is what they call an easing of the situation between Italy and ourselves—not between Italy and Abyssinia. The pressure is going on. Three days after the discussion with Sir Eric Drummond, 16,000 troops and 20 great ships were being loaded up. There has been no easing of the situation as far as they are concerned, but there has been an easing of the situation between Italy and ourselves. The Italians are delighted. M. Laval has fought his corner with great skill. It is the corner he chose when he said to Italy that he disinterested himself economically in Abyssinia. He has had his trials in his own country. I should like to know why there is this great satisfaction. Have we promised to withdraw the Fleet or any part of it? The right hon. Gentleman can shake his head at any particular suggestion I make, but he cannot shake his head at one. He did not go to the Foreign Office at Rome to inquire about Signor Mussolini's health. He did not go to discuss sanctions, I take it. What was the discussion about? What was the arrangement? What was the promise given? What was the assurance? There is that familiar letter which the Foreign Secretary wrote to Signor Mussolini. Has that letter been published?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I only took that from the Press. That is our difficulty; we can only get our information from what appears in the Press, but there must have been some message. The right hon. Gentleman says that it was not a letter, but some sort of despatch, memorandum or communication must have been made and it must have been passed on to Signor Mussolini. To say that it was not a letter is to quibble. There must have been something said by the right hon. Gentleman. What was it, and what has happened in the last few days to relieve the pressure?
I should like to ask a final question, and I apologise to the House, but the questions I am asking are really relevant to an understanding of the situation. In 207 any other dispute of this kind we would have had Papers. We have not got them and we do not know what is going on except from what we get in the Press. The final question is this: Is there anything in the sanctions which will prevent the continued flow of high explosives, bombs, shells, tanks and troops to crush Abyssinia? There was a great deal in what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook said, because he quoted from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). You are conducting your economic sanctions under conditions which were not contemplated, with enormous gaps. You are laying seige to a city with three great roads open—Brazil, the United States and Germany. Is there anything in the sanctions which will in the least interfere with this flow of material to crush out the independence of the Abyssinian people? Economic sanctions are a serious business. The country will begin to realise it. The right hon. Gentleman shows his usual shrewdness by getting the Dissolution over as soon as possible. Economic sanctions will not come into operation to-day and the complete futility of these conditions will not be apparent for some time. Economic sanctions would have been useful if you had threatened them six months ago, because they will inflict hurt on Italy—serious hurt upon her trade. Italy would have taken that into account. If you had threatened economic sanctions against Germany in 1914 and 50 nations had said that they would refuse to trade with her, you might have stopped the war. You could not have stopped the war with a threat of economic sanctions when Germany was marching on Paris. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will kindly answer my questions, because I think they are questions to which the country will like an answer.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ The MINISTER for LEAGUE of NATIONS AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
would like at the outset, before I come to the Debate, to associate myself for personal reasons with the tributes that have been paid to Mr. Arthur Henderson. It was my privilege to work perhaps more closely with him during the last years of his life than any other Member of this House. All of us who took part in the Disarmament Conference 208 must have appreciated how much we owe to him, his patience, his perseverance and, above all, his courage, which were of inestimable value to the Conference in its many critical phrases. In the end, unhappily, the Conference did not achieve the high hopes which had been reposed in it, but no one could fail to appreciate that this was due to no fault of the President, whose devotion to his task endured through pain and suffering to the end.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has asked me a number of questions, and I propose to deal with them faithfully in the course of my speech. As I listened to him I began to wonder what his complaint against the Government really was. He began by stressing that we were organising a stranglehold of Italy by 50 nations. He went on to complain that my right hon. Friend was going to the country in a hurry because he wanted to avoid people seeing that we were not doing anything at all about sanctions. I find it impossible to reconcile these two contentions.
The right hon. Gentleman gave us some figures about the exports of munitions from France to Italy. I must first make quite plain to the House that until a few days ago, when the first of the sanctions was put into force as the result of a unanimous decision, there was no obligation upon any Government to stop the flow of arms to either belligerent. Any action which it took, it could take of its own judgment, and freely; it was not an obligation under the Covenant of the League to refuse the supply of arms and munitions. As it happens, we did ourselves place an embargo on exports of arms to both countries, and I understand that the French Government and most other arms-producing countries pursued the same course. I understand, moreover, that the embargo placed by the French Government was imposed before our own. I confess that the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given are, therefore, a surprise to me, though I must point out that even if they were true there is no question of any breach of faith by any nation. The French Government was entitled to send arms to both parties until the League collectively decided otherwise. If the right hon. Gentleman has those figures my right hon. Friend would be pleased 209 to see them, because I confess that they are surprising.
Then he asked me what engagements we had entered into at Geneva in the last few days in respect of mutual help arising out of the operation of sanctions. I am bound to say I thought the right hon. Gentleman seemed rather anxious to create an atmosphere of suspicion. I have absolutely nothing to hide in this matter. The work which we have been doing at Geneva is work under Article XVI, paragraph 3, and that paragraph reads:The members of the League agree further that they will mutually support one another in any financial and economic measures which are taken under this Article in order to minimise the loss and inconvenience resulting from the above measures, and that they mutually support one another in resisting any special measures aimed at one of their number by the Covenant-breaking State.In pursuance of that Article a Committee has been sitting at Geneva, and has produced a report which has been made public. That is the only document, the only negotiation, that there is, and on the basis of that document, which I hold here, but which I do not think I need weary the House by reading, the Governments have agreed upon a certain basis of discussion among themselves to see what, if anything, they can do to carry out that paragraph of Article XVI. There is really no mystery about it, and all that has happened is well known before the light of day and is in accordance with the obligations we have all assumed under the Covenant of the League.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is not a question of there being any mystery; it is a question of what we are committed to. Are we committed in any way, however vague it may be, to compensate any of the States who may suffer severe losses in consequence of this action?
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
What we want to understand is what form does the application of that Article to this country take in present circumstances?
§ Mr. EDEN
If the right hon. Gentleman wants me to do so, I will read it again. It is rather long. It has been published in every paper. This is the Report of the Committee of the Organisation of Mutual Support. It says:The co-ordinating committee draws the special attention of all Governments to their obligations under paragraph 3 of Article 16 of the Covenant according to which the Members of the League undertake mutually to support one another in the application of economic and financial measures taken under this article.With a view to carrying these obligations into effect, the Governments of the Members of the League will:—(a) adopt immediately measures to assure that no action taken as a result of Article XVI will deprive any country applying sanctions of such advantages as the commercial agreements concluded by the participating States with Italy afforded it through the operation of the most-favoured-nation clause; …There are three or four other paragraphs. I will read the whole document if the House wishes.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to know where the document is to be found. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman cannot read it right through now, but I should like to know where it can be obtained.
§ Mr. EDEN
It has been published fully by the League and in the Press, but if the right hon. Gentleman would like to have it published as a White Paper we will consider that point. It has been in every newspaper.
If I may I will now come to the main issue of this Debate. The main charge brought against the Government for its share in the handling of this dispute—I have listened to this Debate during the past two days—is that while we have acted energetically and persistently as it was our duty to do in the last few months, we neglected to do so in the earlier stages of the dispute, when a greater 211 display of firmness and activity might have avoided its subsequent development. I think that is the case against us. This anxiety to indict the Government is sometimes carried a little far. Lord Snowden, for instance, expressing, as is his wont, in gentlest terms, his disagreement with the Government, exclaimed that if firm action had been taken by Britain and France 12 months ago the situation would never have developed so critically. If other Members of the Opposition should be tempted to say anything of the kind, I would remind them that had His Majesty's Government and the French Government taken action 12 months ago they would have shown uncanny foresight, because at that time the international world had not been troubled by the present dispute and the name "Wal-Wal" was still unknown to us all. That enthusiasm would have had the Government bring a dispute to an end before even the incident which gave rise to it had taken place.
The clash between the Italian and the Abyssinian forces which gave rise to this dispute took place before the Rome agreements to which the right hon. Gentleman refers; it took place on 5th December last year. Since then it has fallen to my lot to take part in almost every stage of the negotiations, and if the House will bear with me I would like, in view of the charges that have been developed against us, to give an account, as brief as I can make it, of the course of those negotiations. I hope to be able to show that there is no real justification for the charge of dilatoriness which has been levelled against us, and that from the beginning of this dispute until the present time His Majesty's Government have used all their influence, and used it without respite, to bring about a settlement which might be acceptable to both parties and consistent with the Covenant of the League of Nations. The 5th December was the first date. The weeks that followed were a period of intense international diplomatic activity, in which our Government exerted themselves to their utmost both in Rome and Addis Ababa. We had two immediate objectives, first to secure an immediate demarcation of the frontier between the Italian Colony and Abyssinia, because it was the absence of that frontier which had led to the incident, and, second, by direct negotiation 212 to bring about a settlement of the dispute itself. We made every effort in Rome and in Addis Ababa to bring about that result, but with little success. On 11th January the Council met. On the 15th the Abyssinian Government asked for the dispute to be placed on the Agenda of the Council. The efforts at pacification which took place during that session of the Council led to an agreement between the two Governments which was recorded in two letters addressed to the Secretary-General, and the Council adopted a resolution taking note of those letters. I would ask the House to observe a particular passage in this letter from the Italian delegation written in January:The settlement of the incident might be advantageously pursued in accordance with Article 5 of the Treaty of 1928 between Italy and Ethiopia, it being understood that in the interval, all expedient measures will be taken and all useful instructions will be confirmed or given for the avoidance of fresh incidents.Article 5 of that Treaty, which is the article under which we worked for many months reads:The two Governments undertake to submit to a procedure of conciliation or of arbitration the questions which may arise between them, and which they may not be able to decide by the normal process of diplomacy, without having recourse to force of arms. Notes shall be exchanged by agreement between the two Governments relative to the method of selecting the arbitrators.The January session of the Council therefore closed with the Council taking note of those letters, in which the representatives of both Powers declared their readiness to pursue a settlement in conformity with the spirit of the Treaty which they had signed. That was in January of this year. Between 19th January and 16th March, no communication was made by either party to the League of Nations. Neither party appealed to the League for two months. The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong when he says that following the signature of the agreement in Rome between the French and Italian Governments the Abyssinian Government at once appealed to the League. The Abyssinian Government appealed on account of the Wal-Wal incident before that agreement was signed in Rome, and there was no other appeal until the middle of March. In that interval of two months from January to March we continued our diplomatic activity, because the direct negotiations which both parties 213 had undertaken to push ahead were not proceeding. We made representations that action should be taken. The Italian Government were furthermore warned then of the possible reactions of Italian policy on British public opinion and on Anglo-Italian relations. These representations, made as long ago as February, one of which was made to Signor Mussolini in person, were carried on through the British Ambassador in Rome and the Italian Ambassador in London. We subsequently received assurances from the Italian Government that they would proceed with the negotiations as rapidly as possible and that they were anxious to comply with the undertaking entered into at Geneva both rapidly and in the spirit of moderation and peace. I ask the House to note that that assurance was given towards the close of the month of March.
Now we come to Stresa, about which the right hon. Gentleman asked questions. It is perfectly true that at the Stresa Conference in April this subject was not on the agenda. In the face of the assurances we had received, which I have just quoted to the House, and in the light of the fact that the conference had been called to deal solely with the complexities of the European situation, there was, in deed, no reason whatever why it should have been. It is always easy to be wise after the event, but I would remind the House that the Abyssinian dispute was then almost entirely confined to this minor frontier incident, which was, in fact, later settled by the arbitration machinery of the League, and the wider aspects of the dispute had not then begun to loom so seriously on the horizon. The dispute, such as it then was, was itself in the hands of the Council of the League, which was going to meet in special session within a few days of the Stresa Conference and in ordinary session within a few weeks.
Even that was not all. Direct negotiations between Italy and Abyssinia in accordance with the terms of the 1928 Treaty, which negotiations we had been doing our best to encourage, were then actually in progress. It was also not unreasonable to expect that if agreement were reached at Stresa on other matters it would encourage the Italian Government to endeavour to secure a peaceful settlement of this dispute. An agreement 214 was reached, and it was hardly to be supposed that one of the three Powers who had just declared that the object of their joint policy was the collective maintenance of peace within the framework of the League of Nations would take any action in any other continent which would jeopardise that framework.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Does that mean that there was no discussion between our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary and Signor Mussolini?
§ Mr. EDEN
Not between the heads of delegations. The special Council meeting took place two or three days after Stresa. At that meeting the representative of Italy—and I think that this again shows that it is hardly fair to suggest that the matter should have been discussed at Stresa—signified his Government's intention to put into operation as speedily as possible the procedure provided for in Article 5 of the Treaty of 1928. My right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary himself suggested that the conciliation machinery provided for in that Treaty should be set up and the terms of reference decided before the Council's ordinary session in May.
I come back to Geneva for the important May session of the Council. In the few weeks that had preceded that May session, anxiety had been created by the despatch of Italian troops to East Africa. The House will see in a moment that that in itself was a perfectly legitimate operation, since any nation has the right under the Covenant to send troops to any part of its own territories. It was the volume of those reinforcements that in May began to create concern. In consequence, the Emperor of Abyssinia on 20th May telegraphed to the Secretary-General of the League, asking the Council to stop the military measures taken by Italy and to apply Article XV of the Covenant on certain conditions.
The result of this situation was that the British delegation went to Geneva with a very firm determination to ensure that a distinction should be drawn between the Wal-Wal incident and the other minor incidents on the one hand, and 215 the situation which was being created by the despatch of those reinforcements on the other. We felt strongly that we could not acquiesce in any procedure which might result in nothing being done to prevent hostilities before the next meeting of the Council, which would normally not have been until September. We took steps to explain our pre-occupation on this score, both to the other delegations when we reached Geneva and in the clearest terms to Signor Mussolini himself. The attitude of the Italian Government was that their military operations were essentially defensive. Like any Government in similar circumstances they could not admit that measures for the legitimate defence of their colonial territory could constitute the subject of remarks from any quarter whatever. In those circumstances, our negotiations at Geneva aimed at two objectives, first of all to ensure that the procedure of arbitration to which I referred should cover all incidents which had arisen between the two countries and, secondly, that a definite time limit should be placed on the duration of this procedure. Both of those objectives were attained in a Resolution which, after some very arduous negotiation, was finally adopted by the Council on 25th May.
I wish to invite the attention of the House to the statement made by the Italian representative in agreeing to this Resolution. He said that by accepting the arbitration procedure the Italian Government had demonstrated their determination to respect the undertakings entered into by the Italian and Abyssinian Governments in the Treaty of 1928, by which, the House will recall, they had undertaken to settle such questions as might arise without having recourse to arms. If, he continued, the Italian Government accepted the conciliation and arbitration procedure, they did so because they intended to conform thereto. That was the position at the end of the May conference. Therefore, at that time, the House will agree, we had good reason to think, as the outcome of the May meeting of the Council, that the situation might be expected to improve.
However, we did not rest content with the results of that meeting. I was instructed towards the end of June to proceed 216 to Rome and to put before Signor Mussolini himself, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, a proposal for a settlement which involved a constructive contribution on our part. There is no need for me to go into that proposal at length at this stage. I can only express the deep regret of His Majesty's Government that on this occasion, as on very many other occasions in this dispute, efforts which were made to find a solid basis upon which discussion might have been initiated with good results were not successful. I will, however, call the attention of the House to the statement which I made here in this House on my return from that visit to Rome.
In answer to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), who maintained that until my right hon. Friend spoke in Geneva in September nobody could possibly know the position of His Majesty's Government, I would say—I quote from my earlier statement to the House—that:I expressed to Signor Mussolini the grave concern of His Majesty's Government at the turn which events were taking between Italy and Abyssinia. Our motives were neither egoist nor dictated by our interests in Africa, but by our membership of the League of Nations. I said that British foreign policy was founded upon the League. His Majesty's Government could not, therefore, remain indifferent to events which might profoundly affect the League's future. Upon this issue public opinion in this country felt very strongly. It was only through collectve security that in our judgment peace could be preserved, and only through the League that Great Britain could play her full part in Europe. It was for this reason that His Majesty's Government had been anxiously studying whether there was any constructive contribution which they could make in order to promote a solution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1935; col. 1521, Vol. 303.]Throughout July these diplomatic activities continued. Efforts were made, in which we took part, to try to secure a meeting of the three parties who had signed the 1906 Treaty, with a view to facilitating a settlement, but these efforts came to naught. On 31st July we were back at Geneva, as the result of the Resolution, in which we had taken our part, insisting upon ensuring that the matter should be dealt with. On 31st July the Council was called together. At this session two things were done. The Council arranged for a resumption of the work of arbitration and conciliation which had broken down. The four arbitrators resumed 217 their work. They appointed a fifth arbitrator, and the arbitral award was ultimately pronounced in respect of Wal-Wal unanimously on 3rd September.
The House will, therefore, appreciate that the solution of the original cause of the whole dispute, the cause which was, if you like, in subdued effervescence at Stresa, the incident of Wal-Wal, was thus accepted by both parties and completely disposed of. Then we had the extraordinary situation that, the origin of the dispute having been disposed of, we were faced with a grave international situation. We had to deal with the wider aspects of the dispute. We decided that on 4th September the Council should undertake a general examination of the relations between the two countries unless a material improvement could be brought about in the interval. The attempt to produce such an improvement took the form of a three-Power meeting and negotiations were held in Paris in the month of August.
There is no need for me to give in detail again all this long negotiation. The main lines have already been made public. Suffice it to say that at that Conference certain suggestions were made jointly by the representatives of France and the United Kingdom which, had they been accepted as a basis of discussion, would have been found to go very far towards meeting the legitimate claims of the Italian Government to play a constructive part in the administrative reform and the economic development of Abyssinia, under the aegis of the League. Had they been accepted they might ultimately have formed the basis of a lasting agreement. Unfortunately, however, they were rejected by the Italian Government, and, as a consequence, the Paris conversations ended fruitlessly on 18th August.
The proceedings at Geneva last month are so fresh in our minds as to require no detailed description. Every endeavour was made to find a settlement. The Italian Government stated their case and it was carefully considered, first by the Committee of Five and later by the Committee of Thirteen. These committees also studied other documents at their disposal, reports on slavery and so forth. As a result of all this endeavour, a, plan embodying, and in some respects amplifying, the proposal which we had put forward in Paris was worked out and 218 presented to both parties as a basis of negotiation. This plan, the House will note, was accepted by the Abyssinian. Government but rejected by the Italian Government.
I have shown the House, though very summarily, the record of many long months of negotiation. Thus it will appear that attempts were made, not once, but many times, and not only in recent weeks but from the very beginning, by His Majesty's Government, by the Council and by the committees of the Council to secure a settlement of this dispute, but each time the negotiations failed through the refusal of the Italian Government to accept, even as a basis of discussion, the proposals which were put forward.
I would now like to try to answer some of the criticisms which have been made and to deal with some of the points which I have still left unanswered. The Leader of the Opposition referred yesterday to instructions which had been given by the authorities in British Colonies and Protectorates to apply towards Italian warships and auxiliaries the rules of the Hague Convention No. 13. Owing to the fact that this Convention is one which defines the duties of a neutral as regards these matters, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to infer—and I make no complaint, because it is a natural inference—that His Majesty's Government had made something equivalent to a declaration of neutrality. That is, however, a complete misunderstanding of the position, which I will endeavour to explain in a very few words. If His Majesty's Government had regarded themselves as neutrals they would have taken the regular step of issuing a proclamation of neutrality. No such step has been taken. I quite agree that such action would be inconsistent with their duty under Article XVI of the Covenant in a case where Article XVI was to become effective. We do not consider that any Covenant-breaking State has any legal right to require the observance by other members of the League of any of the laws of neutrality. On the other hand, any departure from the rules to the detriment of the Covenant-breaking State is action, the House will appreciate, in the nature of a sanction, which therefore, in accordance with our oft-declared policy, can only be 219 taken in common with all the other nations of the League at Geneva. In the present case there has been, as yet, no collective decision and Members of the League have therefore the right to apply the rules of the Hague Convention on a purely de facto basis. To do less would be to treat the Covenant-breaking State more favourably than if no breaking of the Covenant had taken place. We found that immediate instructions had to be given to our authorities to guide their actions, and for the reason I have given no other course seemed to be possible except to instruct them to apply the Hague Convention rule on a de facto basis.
Now I come to the right hon. Gentleman's more serious criticism. Before doing that I should like to express my appreciation of what was said by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) at the beginning of the Debate this afternoon. I certainly do appreciate to the full the tribute he, with three others, was good enough to pay to me on behalf of the Trade Union Congress and of the executive of the Labour party. I can assure him that in the international atmosphere at Geneva nothing was more stimulating than that brisk English half-hour. The right hon. Gentleman and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs complained that although economic sanctions might be effective they ought to have been applied sooner. I can only suggest, with respect to the two right hon. Gentlemen, that they should read their Covenant. The obligation to take economic or any sanctions is under Article XVI, and Article XVI only comes into force when a nation has resorted to war in violation of the Covenant. That is the position. It may be that the Covenant is wrong, but that is the international law that we have to apply. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) also complained that the dispute had not been brought sooner before the Council. I think my record will show that it has been before the Council for a very long time, but I can also claim that it was His Majesty's Government who have been foremost in keeping this dispute before the Council.
I will turn to another criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, which has also 220 been repeated in another form by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) with regard to the Sino-Japanese dispute. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse drew a comparison between the present dispute and that dispute. Much of his analogy was false. He stated, what has often been stated, that Japan had been declared the aggressor by the League. That is not so. Japan was never declared the aggressor. The Sino-Japanese dispute did not at any stage result in a resort to war by either of the parties. It may be a strange paradox, and here is something else, perhaps, that hon. Members will appreciate. During the whole of that dispute the Chinese did not break off relations with Japan. They did not withdraw their Minister from Tokyo and they did not invoke Article XVI of the Covenant. Hence the machinery of sanctions against Japan never arose as a question for the League to decide. Indeed, quite apart from these juridical aspects of the matter, there were practical considerations in the Sino-Japanese dispute which do not arise in the present dispute. The two great neighbouring States bordering on the Pacific were not members of the League of Nations. For all the above reasons the essential conditions for collective action were absent, and I truly believe that the late Lord Grey's judgment in this matter was right. He said—I think in the last speech he ever made—The attacks on the League for its handling of the Far Eastern trouble were not justified. The League had been a restraining influence from the beginning. There were those who said that this Far East question was a test case and by it the League of Nations would stand or fall. In his opinion it was not a test case.I come now to the question of armaments. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse attacked what he alleged to be the armament policy of the Government. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman it seemed to me that he was suffering from some confusion of thought on this subject. He stated that he did not believe that armaments did in themselves bring peace. I fully agree. The lowest level at which armaments can be internationally agreed is always the best and the safest level, but while admitting that, it is impossible to ignore the responsibility which falls upon the Government of this country in a world 221 that has been for some time past rapidly rearming, and which contains States whose outlook on international affairs may differ widely from our own. It is surely the height of folly to say that you must play your part, and a full part, in collective action in a fully-armed world and yet not have the means to do it. The right hon. Gentleman is the worst example of this doctrine that I know. He complains of our failure to take vigorous action in the Sino-Japanese dispute. He complained that we had allowed Austrian democracy to go down. What did he mean by that? Does he mean that we should have interfered in the internal affairs of Austria, if necessary by force? Would he propose that we should have violated the covenant in the interests of democracy in Austria? In how many other countries would the right hon. Gentleman have us repeat this policy Palmerston pales into insignificance beside the peevish truculence of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent my argument. What I said was that the failure of this Government to stand up against the aggressor, with the rest of the League, in the case of Japan had encouraged outbreaks of violence and the use of violence all over the world. I believe that had we stood firm these things would not have occurred in Austria.
§ Mr. EDEN
Of course I fully accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, but at the same time I ought to warn him that in my judgment, for what it is worth, if he is going to pursue policies of that kind he will require armaments many times larger than this country has at the present time, and under Socialist finance he is never likely to be able to afford them.
One argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) needs a reply. The Government, he maintained, had tried to have it both ways. They said, "If the League fails we shall want more armaments. If the League succeeds we shall also require more armaments." The right hon. Gentleman maintains that these two propositions cannot be equally true. The right hon. Gentleman's argument would be sound enough if, in the first place, the League emerges successfully, as I believe it will, from this dispute; but even if it 222 does, in the second place can he be sure that all future crises will be of precisely the same nature? If he cannot be so sure, his argument does not apply. It is the measure of the unknown that makes rearmament inevitable, and I can earnestly tell the House that it has been, in this present dispute, our own disarmament to the edge of risk—fortunately not beyond—which has produced an element of evitable uncertainty.
I turn to another subject raised by the right hon. Gentleman—the question of the efficacy of sanctions. I think during this Debate from time to time there have been indications that hon. Members were inclined to belittle the efficacy of economic sanctions.
§ Mr. EDEN
At this stage. It is, of course, quite impossible to give any estimate of the ultimate effect of economic sanctions or of the rapidity with which that effect will be felt. It is a new experiment on trial and there are many imponderables. At the same time I beg the House not to under-estimate the significance of the proposal which is at present under discussion at Geneva. If, for instance, every member of the League agrees to refuse to import the goods of the belligerent, that clearly would be a form of economic sanction, the effect of which might not be immediate but the ultimate consequences of which must give pause to any great trading nation. Let us for one moment place ourselves in their position and appreciate what would be our anxiety if 75 per cent. of our export trade were threatened with extinction, even temporarily. Moreover, in the world as it is to-day any nation which sees itself losing a market, even in the ordinary course of trade rivalry, must ask itself whether that market will ever be regained. Personally, I most sincerely hope that in the few days that elapse before the nations meet again to consider the date on which these sanctions must be imposed a settlement may yet be reached. But if it is not reached, then the House should not under-estimate the effectiveness of the step on which the League will be embarking.
I will say one word about the nature of a possible settlement. The right hon. Gentleman, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, seemed 223 to be suspicious about negotiations. The Government have been in negotiation in this dispute, as I have shown, ever since it began last December, and at no time have we followed a course, I think the House will admit, that will justify suspicion. We have always been ready to co-operate with others to secure a peaceful settlement of this dispute. But there are two indispensable conditions, mentioned already by the Prime Minister. The first is that the three parties, Italy, Abyssinia and the League accept the settlement, and secondly that the terms shall be consistent with the Covenant. There is no question of a bargain in some unknown way, and still less is there any question of some Imperialist deal, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest. Surely our gesture in offering a territorial concession to bring about a settlement of the dispute is inconsistent with the suggestion of Imperialist grab.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I did not refer to discussions with regard to ultimate terms. The question I put to the right hon. Gentleman was this. I called his attention to the fact that the situation had eased. That is the newspaper report, and undoubtedly it has. What I wanted to know was whether any assurance had been given to Italy during the last few days which had been responsible. Some discussions about a settlement have been going on for some time under the three conditions laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, which have been laid down before. Clearly, therefore, that is not what has eased the situation, and I would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman what it is—whether there is any assurance about the British Fleet, or about the Suez Canal, or anything else?
§ Mr. EDEN
No change has been made, and no change will be made as far as we are concerned, in the League programme; it will go on as it has gone on before. The only assurance, if assurance it can be called, which has been given to the Italian Government, is an assurance that we should not ourselves take action alone. The right hon. Gentleman expresses astonishment, but, if he had read the Italian and French Press—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer my question with regard to the publication of a White Paper?
§ Mr. EDEN
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has reminded me. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, we have, of course, no objection whatever to the publication of a White Paper; on the contrary, we should greatly welcome it, because we have absolutely nothing to hide. But, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, in a case of this kind there are very great difficulties. The publication of a White Paper would involve the consent of at least two other Governments, and perhaps more, to its publication, and in the circumstances I can only give him the assurance that we will carefully examine the possibility of laying such a Paper as soon as possible; but I can give him no definite pledge that we will do so, on account of the delicate nature of the situation.
May I deal now with one anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Bodmin not connected directly with international affairs? The hon. Gentleman was very much afraid of what would happen if my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook was returned, and if the Government had not as large a majority as it has now. He asked what would happen to myself and some other Members of the Government—should we find ourselves destroyed if our majority in this House were so small? The remedy is quite simple, and I look to the hon. Gentleman to help to provide it.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that I also went on to say that the situation in the next House would probably be, as in the past, that the Government would have to rely upon the Opposition to help them against their own supporters?
§ Mr. EDEN
I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to help us, and he can do so by ensuring that we have the largest possible majority.
Those of us who have been concerned for a long period of time with this most unhappy dispute cannot fail to be acutely conscious of the unpleasant duties and unwelcome responsibilities which it places upon us. We can feel no enthusiasm for our task. But here is a duty which has to be done, and which must and will be done. Some hon. Members, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs among 225 them, have suggested in the course of this Debate that there has been in the last few days some wavering in the attitude of the Government. I can assure them that this is not so. There has been and will be no change in the policy of His Majesty's Government, in which, as a loyal member of the League, we will persevere. For what is at stake? At this hour it is surely not necessary to repeat that it is neither an African dispute, nor an incident in expansionist rivalry between two nations, nor a colonial war, but a vital test of the efficacy of the League and of the loyalty of its members to the Covenant to which they have put their names.
We have tried in these post-war years to build up a new order by means of which we hope to spare mankind in the future the scourge of war. We who are members of the League have sought collectively to create a new ideal and a new international order. If we fail, even though that failure be not final, we shall have shattered for a generation, and it may be more, the hopes which mankind has placed in this new endeavour. Who can tell what the consequences of such disappointment may be? If, on the other hand, the League of Nations can on this occasion prove itself able to withstand the strain placed upon it—and I believe it will—then, even though many serious problems will yet surround us, the world will face them fortified in its faith and inspired to fresh endeavour by the victory of its own ideals.
For the first time, I believe, in the history of the world, an attempt is being made to operate an international system based not merely upon power but upon certain fixed principles of equity. This is an adventure in which we may all be proud to play our part.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) is probably better fitted than I am for the role of Jeremiah. Indeed, I am not certain that he is not preeminent over every other Member of the House for that particular role. But I have no complaint, and I am sure that Members on these benches have none, to register against the jeremiad to which we listened at some length. Indeed, I may say that for 30 years I have always 226 listened to his tears with a fierce joy. He is on the other side now, and always. But I must say that I do take some objection to his assuming, not merely the role of Jeremiah, but also the role of Cato. There are quite enough people in the world to attack the past history of this country, our morals, our manners, our Imperialist character, our wickedness, without the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook joining in. To hear the right hon. Gentleman cheered to the echo by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) seemed to me to be an apotheosis for both Members which we may well register in our minds.
The real point about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook—the present Member for Sparkbrook—is not that he is merely six months behind the times, but that he has become the modern Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Indeed, I expected from time to time to hear him burst out into quotations from Dante. I would assure hon. Members who feel like him that the time is past for being pro-Italian in an English Parliament. Six months ago the right hon. Gentleman's speech would have been admirable. It would have been a perfect exposition of an extremely reactionary point of view, trying to prevent the British Government from taking up a certain line of action. But, once the Government have taken up that line, the position is completely changed. The attitude taken up by the Government is not a matter which affects merely the people in this country; it is not a policy which can be changed, either from Government to Government or from Parliament to Parliament; it is a permanent bond between the Government and people of Great Britain and the people of the rest of the world—a collective responsibility.
When the Foreign Secretary spoke on 11th September, he committed this country, and he secured by that commitment the support of a large number of other responsible, independent countries throughout the world. A revolution was made, a deed signed, when that speech was delivered. The commitment was made then, and I want to point out to the House that it was a new reformed foreign policy. A great many of my friends on these benches and elsewhere have criticised the Government for what took place 227 before 11th September. I am quite ready to admit that the Government that we had in this country six months ago was probably the worst Government that we have ever had. The Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) met with very little support anywhere in the country. But the present Government—whether by an act of conversion, such as we used to see in the chapels 50 years ago, or whether, it may be, convinced by the result of the peace ballot—have taken up a completely different line from the previous Government. The direction of the Foreign Office has changed. Let the dead bury their dead. All these past Governments have nothing to do with us at the present moment; what we are anxious to do is to save the soul of the Government as it is.
I have no criticism, and nothing but gratitude and approbation, for what the Government have done recently at Geneva, and I think it is a tragedy that we have now been forced into a General Election when those people who should naturally be supporting the Government in its new policy are inevitably compelled by party politics to pick holes in that Government's policy. I can understand the Prime Minister determining upon an election at this time. Any party chief, any Government, and any Prime Minister, would do exactly the same. We must remember that it is not merely a question of the desire to get more seats, because that is obviously impossible. Every one of us has a real honest desire, when we talk in the country, to talk something in which we believe, and not to talk nonsense, and there can be nothing more unpleasant than to go to the country and soberly address 1,000 people who have some sort of faith in you, telling them that it is owing to you that unemployment has diminished in the country. We say things like that, but we do not believe them; and we know that hon. Members opposite say things like that and do not believe them either. A General Election supported by a series of lies, known to be lies by the people uttering them, has a degrading effect on the public itself. Give me the good old times when we could talk Free Trade on one side and Protection on the other. Then we believed. I do not know, of course, whether they did. But now, when 228 you talk unanimously about nothing but how much better trade will be if you get £1,000 a year instead of the other fellows, it is very bad for democracy. That is the tragedy of this Election, and I do not want whatever is said during the Election to give the slightest impression abroad that the Government in that one item of its policy has not got for the first time the entire public opinion of the country behind it. With the exception of the handful of the Independent Labour Party, and possibly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, there is no failure to back the new Foreign policy. The sooner the gentleman we call Signor Mussolini understands that, and the more clearly M. Laval and the French people understand it, the more likely we are to make a success of the League of Nations.
For the first time in my life England has definitely taken a lead in a great moral cause. It is not merely peace which is now the altruistic policy of the Government; it is the maintenance of democratic government as against absolute government throughout the world. It is the maintenance of the rule of law instead of the rule of force, and it has been received in a way that none of us could have imagined by all the free people in the world. All the free countries in Europe and in America have suddenly seen that there is a chance of a new internationale, not the Socialist internationale, but an internationale of honest, unselfish men and States, and it is because England has once more, as in the case of the abolition of slavery, as in the case of the creation of parliamentary government, led the world that I am proud of my country and of the Government. It is impossible to deny that the whole course of the Debate yesterday-made one feel that the Government policy was the policy of that bench and of nowhere else in the Tory party. It made me physically sick to listen to speech after speech. There is an enormous number of people in the House who still maintain the old Tory attitude, whose minds have not got attuned to the new role of England in international affairs. They represent a small section of the Press of the country, but not the electors. My experience of the peace ballot was that by far the largest number of signatures to it were those people who vote Conservative regularly at every election, 229 particularly in the country areas where the poll was sometimes enormous and the trouble of collecting the signatures far greater.
Do not imagine from the attitude of the House of Commons yesterday—it has not been so bad to-day—that there is the slightest reluctance to support the Government in the new international law, led by Great Britain. Let us remember, when we listen to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and others, that it is inevitable that there should be in any Conservative party a large number of people whose ideals are not democratic ideals but the rule of authority. There is much more sympathy in the House with Mussolini or with Hitler than in the country at large, because inevitably politicians here exist and are elected on terror of the working class. Fear of the English working class is a very much larger fear in the eyes of Conservative Members of Parliament than in the eyes of the country as a whole. I will not say it is very large among Members of Parliament but, if there is fear, it affects you first. So that you naturally get a larger sympathy with the fascist alternative to democracy in the House of Commons and in the public Press than you get amongst the public.
I should say roughly, mixing very largely with Conservatives, that the country as a whole is at present intensely proud of being a democratic country, and the fewer democratic countries there are the prouder they become that England is different from the rest. I do not believe that there is outside the House half the sympathy with dictators that there is here. So that I would have the Government remember that fear—even of public opinion—is always a bad guide. Fear of war is not the best way to avoid war. Fear of an Amery cave is not the best way to secure the united front. Fear is always a foolish counsellor. Above all, to be afraid of your adversary, to be afraid of the law breaker, is the best possible encouragement of the law breaker. It is for that reason that I want to offer a few criticisms and to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few definite questions. In the first place, why was France asked to say whether she would support us if we were attacked? I should have taken it for granted that she would. The French would have taken it for granted and the Italians would have taken it for granted, 230 and if they would not it did not very much matter. But why France? It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman's heaviest labour has been dealing, not with the 50 nations, but with France. He has made trouble for himself. The more he grovels and placates M. Laval—
§ Mr. EDEN indicated dissent.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
—figuratively—the less M. Laval thinks of him and the more difficult becomes that co-operation which is so essential. I do not think it is very dignified in the first place, and in the second place I think it is unhappy for our new role to put a question like that to one selected member of the League. I would certainly have had that question addressed also to the Russian Government, to the Greek Government, to the Yugoslav Government and, above all, to the Turkish Government. If, as we may assume, Turkey and Russia had said with one accord, "Certainly, we should only be too glad to be of any assistance," that would have helped the French to make up their minds much more quickly. At the end of the Crimean War when everything was all nice and comfortable, we asked the Italians, the Government of Piedmont as they were then, whether they would like to come in and help us, and they jumped at the opportunity. It made them respectable at once. There is nothing the Russian Government desires more than to be made respectable. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman he can ask them for anything there now and he will get loyal co-operation.
I am not at all certain that the Russian Government is as happily situated as we are. I do not know that everything the Russian Government asks us for they would get, but at present there is one stronger defender of the League of Nations even than the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and that is Stalin. He may be a dictator, but when you are starting your League of Nations, of peoples who have no selfish external aims, it is very good to get together with your own a force which is probably far stronger than we are in the air. I think it would be more encouraging to the other members of the League and to us, and more stabilising to the nerves of our Navy, if we thought we had the very hesitating backing of France supplemented by the genuine and anxious support 231 of other members of the League who have access to Mediterranean waters and would be of assistance to us.
Beside the importance of preventing exports coming from Italy the restriction of imports going to Italy is of little importance. If we can stop three-quarters of the trade of Italy they cannot get Money, and without money they cannot buy. I attach infinitely more importance to the prevention of exports from Italy than to preventing scoundrels selling high explosives to the Italian Government. Stop them having money to buy by preventing them getting money for exports, and you have got them where you want them. So that this export embargo is pretty effective ultimately. But everyone knows that there will be great difficulty and that there will be many "rats." Deserters are not confined to Hungary and Austria. Deserters always accumulate when sacrifice becomes necessary. There is no discipline at present and no possibility of discipline, so that we may have great difficulty in making the ban on exports sufficiently drastic. Then what are we to do next? Suppose in three months' time the right hon. Gentleman has his export ban working fairly satisfactorily, suppose Addis Ababa is occupied and the resistance of Abyssinia has practically ceased, then some terms might be arranged, but whatever terms are arranged in those circumstances the League will have failed. There will be a comfortable feeling in the breasts of all the dictators throughout the world—Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain—that the League, like the old Byzantine Empire, knows how to give way and how to settle matters. You will remember the old Byzantine system, and indeed that in this country we decided to pay Danegeld in order to buy off the Danes.
If the League ends by bribing the aggressor into being good that will mean the failure of everything we are now seeking to get out of collective action. So the right hon. Gentleman must contemplate the possibility of further sanctions, for it has the support of everybody interested in the League of Nations Union and everybody who signed that petition. It would be possible to sink one of our ships in the Suez Canal, by accident if necessary, and in that way cut off the supply of arms, petrol and 232 men to Eritrea unless they went round by the Cape. We must have some word from the Government before they go to the country and demand effective support as to the use of further sanctions, if the economic sanctions fail. We have been told to-day, and we were told yesterday, not that the Government would never take up further sanctions outside the economic field, but that they would never adopt any sanction which could lead to war, except in conjunction with all the rest of the League of Nations.
I would have the House observe, first of all, that the League of Nations would not be where it is to-day unless the present Government had given the lead. It does depend upon a lead, and the remarkable thing about that lead was not so much that the Tory party should begin it, but that every other independent Government immediately followed that lead. So in the case of further sanctions, we really want to know whether the Government are prepared, if they think that after making inquiries they can get support, to give the lead again or, better still, if Russia gives the lead—it is their turn—that England is prepared to follow it. I hope from pride that it will not be Russia that should give the lead, but that England will always remain at the head of civilisation. But if Russia should do it will the Government support it or not? Before you discuss that matter you must see what is to be the necessary embargo. Obviously, the real step which would stop the war and which must inevitably bring the Italian dictator to his knees is to blockade Eritrea so as to prevent supplies from getting in. But even that is not necessary. All that is necessary is to prevent petrol from getting into Eritrea. Everything depends upon petrol—aeroplanes, transport, tractors. Without petrol you might as well cease modern war. Without petrol you might as well not attempt operations. The blockade of that one article, which is not included, unfortunately, in the present list, would prevent war.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I know. That is true, and, unfortunately, most of the petrol does not come from League-controlled countries, but a great deal comes from America. The whole question of 233 petrol depends upon America. If you could get America to come in and exclude petrol not from the Italian market, but from Eritrea, action could be made effective. What steps have been taken to interest Americans into taking such a step? It is inconceivable to me that America should not come in. There is not a public man in America to-day, not even Randolph Hearst, or anyone else, who would dream of letting American capital keep that war going. We know perfectly well that the people of Holland have been with us to a man. Iraq supplies could be cut off. We are not quite so certain about M. Titulescu and his petrol. Could he stand out? I do not know whether there is an oil well in Albania, but what does it matter so long as you can stop it from going into Eritrea, or through the Suez Canal from Italy?
I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has envisaged just those sanctions which would work. I am a little afraid that he or his Government is being deterred by this conflict of fear that any further sanctions will be unpleasant to Mussolini and therefore fatal, not to Mussolini, mark you, but to us. There is no doubt that all the sanctions which Mussolini does not mind are of no use, and that the sanctions he does mind are of use. The British Empire to-day does not worry about aggressors, the safety of the British Empire does not depend upon our Navy. It depends entirely upon the certainty that the aggressor would have trouble. Peace is not maintained by the number of policemen or by the strength of their truncheons, but merely by the certainty of punishment, the certainty of justice and action appropriate to the crime. In the same way, if Mussolini knows that 50 Powers will prevent petrol or other munitions of war or troops from going into Eritrea, he wil ltell you, of course, that he will fight in those circumstances. But does anyone suppose that if he knew that they would do it, he would fight? It is certainty which makes the greatest force for law throughout the world. It is uncertainty which leads to more uncertainty, and it is because I believe that the Government, by their action, have laid the foundation for absolute security for all nations, big and small, subject to revisions based upon justice and not upon force, that I am intensely grateful to 234 the right hon. Gentleman for having led England towards the light, and without fear.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) when he says that public opinion in this country is solidly behind the Government at the present time. I think that other countries may be deceived by headlines in a certain portion of the Press and not realise that the support of the League is as great as we know it is. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) put forward his case this afternoon in great detail and with great ability, and it will undoubtedly make an impression upon certain sections of the public. At one point in his speech he tried to reduce this dispute once again to the dimensions of a small African dispute. His comparison between the Sudan and Abyssinia was an extremely able one. I believe that there is a certain section of opinion in this country which would like to agree to that kind of comparison, but the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, in the course of his brilliant speech this evening, made it clear how large and wide these issues really are, [...]d that we cannot have one doctrine for Europe and another for Africa. The conditions in which the conquest of the Sudan took place have passed away, and the new conditions have arisen as the result of the establishment of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
In the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook he once again took refuge in the hope that this country might become isolated. He paid a certain amount of lip-service to the idea of the League of Nations, but when we examine the speech we shall find that the League would have been entirely ineffective as it would not have been able to enforce any of its decisions. It would really mean the breakdown of the present international system, and, as we know, the breakdown of the League of Nations would not mean that liberty of action, that independence, that self-sufficiency and that safety which the exponents of that particular doctrine are always placing before the public of the country. It would mean, as the Secretary of State pointed out yesterday, a period of great 235 uncertainty, great instability and extreme danger, and we must face the fact that it would mean the return to the system of alliances. There is—and I have noticed it during the course of this Debate—a certain desire to avoid that further issue and to say, "If the League of Nations breaks down we will still go on." We shall not go on. We shall go back to something worse, and, I believe, to a system of alliances, or, at the best, we shall once again have to try to rebuild a new international system and with the loss of all the work of the past 15 years.
The resolute action which has been taken by the Government has, in the circles represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, been met with a certain amount of alarm and of despondency. There has been an effort to explain away our obligations and to find excuses for the aggressor and for the repudiation of treaties. After all, the aggressor remains the aggressor. It would have been very easy for the Government to have adopted a convenient policy of drift and taken the line of least resistance in the immediate future. In the course of the next year or 18 months or two years, it would have been quite easy to patch up some kind of agreement, but it would have meant a steady deterioration of the position. The dangers to which we are all looking—and when we are dealing with the Italian problem we are also looking at greater dangers elsewhere—would be brought very much closer than they are at the present time. If, as the Minister for League of Nations Affairs said this afternoon—and I believe and trust that he is right—he succeeds in the endeavours which he is making, these dangers, which would have been brought much closer by a policy of drift and uncertainty, will be pushed much further off and may eventually disappear.
In any case the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his friends cannot get any great comfort from their policy of going into the mists of the Imperial isolation. The Dominions are not likely to welcome it, for they have shown definitely during the last few months that they stand solidly with this country, and that the Empire for this purpose is at one. I trust that there will be no kind of concession in any quarter to this defeatist attitude. I welcome the definite and 236 clear statement which the Prime Minister made that any settlement must be made within the framework of the League of Nations and at Geneva, and that the terms must be satisfactory to the League and also to Abyssinia. I feel that with that assurance we may go to the election certain that that policy is a determined and a resolute one, and a policy of determination to see this thing through.
I would like to touch on one other aspect of the international situation, that is the question of emigration. There is an idea, particularly in the Party opposite, that it would be easy to deal with this problem by handing over certain slabs of territory, throwing something to keep the wolves from the door. It is a large and important question which can never be considered in the terms of three discontented countries—Italy, Germany and Japan. If it is to be honestly dealt with we must deal with it as a world problem, and if we do that we shall find that probably the most acute necessity for emigration is in a country such as China, which is never mentioned. There is a great deal of humbug about this discussion of emigration, and I trust we shall see clearly in the near future that we cannot get out of these difficulties by merely paying danegeld.
The League is dynamic and not static. The world will have seen that it is not directed against any one country. It has often been said in this country that certain nations of Europe look upon the League as an anti-German institution, but the fact that it is to-day working against a great Power closely associated with ourselves and with France will allay a good many misgivings regarding its attitude. We shall not be able to deal with these various economic problems, questions of raw materials and emigration, until it is clear that the League will be an effective instrument in dealing with the problem immediately before it of unprovoked aggression; and that unprovoked aggression can only be brought to an end if we continue the policy so vigorously pursued by the Government at Geneva during the last two months.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
Although it must seem presumptuous of any private member to lecture the Foreign Secretary, especially is that the case when one has 237 never had any responsible position in connection with the Department dealing with foreign affairs. I confess I feel something of that burden upon me even in the presence of the Under-Secretary in charge of League of Nations Affairs. I hope he will not mind if we express ourselves frankly about the speeches which his seniors have made, and the speeches which have been made by Members in other parts of the House. In this British democracy it is, I think, the duty of every Member to make known his views on the course which the Government should follow. Yesterday I was most alarmed at the tone there was in this House. We had a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) lecturing us about the details of slave raiding on the fringe of Abyssinia, details of which even the most ignorant Member must have been familiar from his reading of the cheap Press during the last few months. He seemed to think that the existence of these unfortunate practices in Abyssinia was some reason why the Government should be chary of using its influence to put into operation the machinery of the League of Nations.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
The Noble Lord is not here. He most strongly emphasised that he consistently upheld everything the Government had done up to the present.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
That is true. I do not want to give any false impression, but I do not think that anyone who heard that speech would deny that all the time there was a holding back on the Government, saying "You have gone as far as this; that is all right, but you must not go any further." I may be wrong, but that was my impression. I was similarly much depressed by the reception which greeted any statement from the Foreign Secretary that things might go further. It seemed to me that the cheers were all the other way, and that whenever it was a question of holding back there seemed to be considerable excitement in many quarters, and an encouragement of any suggestion that we had gone far enough with this League business. We have had a further speech to-day from the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), and I must bear testimony to the fact that he was singularly ill-received, 238 contrary to the impression which one got yesterday. It was delightful to find that, although he was holding back tremendously on the Government he was not received in the way I thought such sentiments were received yesterday. The fact is, it does not much matter what goes on in Abyssinia. It is a member of the League, and the Government, I think, has the support of the vast majority of the people in putting into operation to the best of its ability the machinery of the League of Nations in support of that country since the Italian Government have seen fit to make an aggression against it.
The Government, it seems to me, have met the situation by a complete change of policy, and a welcome one to me. I think it is not being at all unfair to say that foreign countries represented at the League of Nations must have been surprised at the speech of the Foreign Secretary. They must also have been very suspicious, as I was myself, when that speech was published. I felt there must be some snag in it somewhere, in view of the past record of the Government. On the other hand, the days went by and it was seen that the Minister for League of Nations Affairs was doing his utmost to press the nations at Geneva to do all they could to use the machinery of the League, and I began to feel that I was perhaps too suspicious of the Government. Then there was the speech yesterday of the Foreign Secretary. It seemed to me as though something had happened in this House, or maybe outside in Government circles, to make him hold back. It was not the speech of an enthusiast for the League of Nations. He was anxious to put into the shop window all he had done hitherto, but his speech did not seem to me to contain nearly enough of that fire for the League machine which would seem to be the legitimate characteristic of determination to stop aggression.
I think I understand the difficulty under which the progressive Ministers in the Government are labouring. I think I understand the weights of die-bard opinion in the House and in the vulgar Press. I particularly want to strengthen the right hon. Gentleman's hand, if he will accept it, by bearing testimony to what I believe to be the feeling in the country. If it is found that other and more serious sanctions are needed, the 239 country will be behind the Government in any action it may deem it right to take to stop aggression. I believe people have pondered deeply on this question, and that if the Government find that the economic sanctions are not the success which it was hoped they would be, the country, with its eyes wide open and knowing the risks involved, would say that they must go forward and take other and, if need be, military sanctions, to put an end to aggression and to make the world safe for peace in future. I have addressed some 20 meetings a week in the West Riding recently, and I have found extraordinary unanimity of opinion.
It may be said that some of the Powers represented at Geneva will not consider the imposition of military sanctions. That may be so. It may be that there has been some undertaking by M. Laval on behalf of France not to impose military sanctions in any circumstances. I wonder if at some stage in this Debate we may be told whether our Government knows of any such undertaking given by the French Government to Italy. It may be that that is the cause of the appeasement in the relations between us and Italy. We have been at great pains to say that we will not act otherwise than in concert with the other members of the League, and if it is known in advance that one member of the League, France, for instance, in no circumstances will take further and military sanctions, then it might quite easily be that our assurance that we will only act in concert with others would give the necessary feeling of relief in Rome which we have seen recently. Has there been any such assurance given by the French Government to the knowledge of our Government? It would be exceedingly interesting if that could be made quite plain.
Personally—here I am going to be bold, for I have said that I am not an expert in these things—I do not believe that if the French were sufficiently pressed they would not come down in favour of any action consistent with the Covenant of the League, because I believe that they are realists and that they know that they have to choose in the long run between the League and collective security, to choose between us and Italy. The hon. Member for Aylesbury 240 (Mr. M. Beaumont) most inaccurately called it blackmail. Coming from one who has not, so far as I know, a regard for the League, perhaps that remark may not have been unexpected from that quarter. I do not know why it should be called blackmail. There is no connection between it and blackmail. France, looking to her own interests, would be obliged to follow any lead that we gave under the League Covenant. Until the proposal has been made to them for further and if necessary military sanctions nobody can possibly say that the other nations would reject it, nor can anybody say that collective security is dead.
There is one further point that I would stress. The Foreign Secretary in his famous speech at Geneva made some reference to the need of certain countries for expansion, and he also made reference to the complaints by certain countries that they had not access to Colonial raw materials. Yesterday, in effect, he repeated that statement when he said that we look on the League as an instrument not only for preventing war but for removing the causes of war. I wonder whether something more can be said about that. What is the Government going to do about that most excellent suggestion made by the Foreign Secretary at Geneva and since repeated? The Government have made their bow, as it were, in the ballet, and it has been universally acclaimed as a bow showing great promise, but of what is the performance of the ballet to consist? Not, I hope, of a series of contortions and wriggles to get away from the logic of their own professions.
One of the most striking speeches in the Debate was made yesterday by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson), who pointed out that the Government were themselves responsible for two actions which have the most sinister significance in any discussion as to the present unrest in the world, namely, the setting up of obstacles to foreigners in their trade with our Colonies, the result of Ottawa, and the imposition, sometimes against the will of Colonial governments, of quotas against Japanese goods. He described both these proceedings as morally quite indefensible. I do not think that any word could be put more strongly in that connection by any hon. Member sitting on these 241 benches. There is a very grave moral responsibility on the Government for having taken those two courses of action, and I do not think that it is a coincidence that since this Government and its predecessor, which, to all intents and purposes, is looked upon as the same in spite of what has been said to the contrary, adopted their line of policy, there has been aggression by Japan in Manchuria, and the present aggression by Italy against Abyssinia. Also, we have to bear in mind that Hitler, with precisely the same reason, the need for expansion and markets, has been promising us in effect that he will make a similar aggression, perhaps in Eastern Europe, when he is fit for that aggression. I do not think it is a coincidence that all these people are claiming more markets and more need for expansion just as we have cornered, as it were, so great an area of the earth's surface. There may be a close connection between the two.
In regard to the Colonies perhaps the hon. Member is not aware that for many years there have been preferences to this country and that those duties are budgetary duties required for the purpose of revenue in the country.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
I am aware of that, and perhaps the hon. Member is aware of certain changes that were made at Ottawa. I need not put it any higher than that. It is precisely those changes against which the Japanese are now declaiming almost daily, and saying that those changes are the cause to a large extent of the economic unrest which is so obvious at the present time. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) yesterday repeated the almost childish remark which has gone round in the Beaverbrook and Rothermere Press that all these countries have access to Colonial raw materials. The real trouble, say the Noble Lord and the cheap Press, is the fact that these countries cannot afford to buy these raw materials and goods from the Colonies. Why not? For the simple reason that other countries have taken steps to prevent them from exporting their goods, consequently they have not the means of buying Colonial goods. That seems to me to be very much the same thing as saying that they are excluded from these raw materials.
242 Here is a great field for something constructive. Will the Government make some definite proposal and state what they will do if other people will do the same? If the Foreign Secretary were to make an announcement that so far as our Colonial Empire was concerned—I do not see why it should be limited, but it would make an excellent beginning—we would return to the policy of the open door, it would assist him and strengthen his hands in any international deal which he may have to conduct with other nations, and it would help to remove suspicions as to our motives. Not until international trade is very much more free than it is at the present time can we hope to have either peace or prosperity. A real move in this direction by such a proposal would not only go far to remove the suspicions which other countries have had as to our motives in our international actions, but it would go far towards laying the foundation for the lasting peace which we all wish to see established.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
I should like to add my humble tribute of appreciation of the speech delivered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs yesterday and the speeches delivered to-day by the Prime Minister and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. I received those speeches with great thankfulness and great relief, and I believe that that thankfulness is shared by the vast majority of my fellow-countrymen. I have had a great deal of opportunity of judging public opinion, not by addressing public meetings—a difficult method of ascertaining public opinion—but by attending markets of all kinds, clubs, meeting people in the street and talking with all kinds and conditions of people, and everywhere I have found very strong support of the policy of His Majesty's Government. Combined with that strong and enthusiastic support, I found everywhere an intense aversion to the idea of war, an intense dread of war. Among all classes, particularly the working classes, I found a very keen realisation that once war starts in Europe it may inevitably spread. I agree with that. There are some enthusiasts who urge that with our Navy alone we should pursue action in the Mediterranean. I feel that if such unilateral action were to take place it would be a direct incentive 243 to action in the Far East, which might have disastrous consequences upon the world. I feel that any such unilateral action might be an inducement to others to contemplate changing the map of Central Europe.
Yesterday in several of the speeches there was strong criticism of the action of the French Government. I have no criticism whatever to make of that comment, but in two or three of the speeches there appeared to be used against the French Government sentences which if they are produced in the French Press might cause a great deal of harm. I deprecate strongly using threats that we will disassociate ourselves from France if she does not act step by step with us now. I deprecate such threats for three reasons. In the first place, it is not possible for us to disassociate ourselves from all interest in the fate of the Channel Ports. In the second place, we must recognise not only the difficulty of the French position but also the fact that the internal position of France is extremely difficult, one might almost describe it as precarious. The Secretary of State said yesterday that no Government can move in these matters in advance of public opinion. We have an enthusiastic public opinion in this country, but no French Government can move in advance of its public opinion without grave risk of internal trouble, possibly revolutionary trouble leading to civil strife and, judging from the past history of France, to the possible establishment of a dictatorship and the destruction and fall of the only great democracy in Europe apart from ourselves.
The third reason is, as the Prime Minister stated yesterday, that whatever happens we must preserve the League. For the first time it is using the machinery of sanctions and has to improvise as it goes along. We all hope that it will succeed, but if it does not succeed to the full extent of our wishes and expectations we must keep the League alive and strive to make it stronger so that it will have greater strength on the next occasion. To do that the co-operation of the French is a vital necessity. The only alternatives before this country are collective security or isolation. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has said, we are not strong 244 enough to stand alone. If there are any in this country who hope to abandon the collective system and base our policy on an alliance with a country outside the League, with a great Power outside the League. I submit that such threats might help forward their desires.
I have spoken only once in this House on foreign affairs, early in July last, when I referred to the economic question and touched upon very much the same ground as the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) touched upon yesterday, with a great deal of eloquence and knowledge which I cannot hope to emulate.
I feel that we must tackle this economic question. Nations like Japan, Germany and Italy are crowded. Although Italy has a less population and a greater area than Great Britain, she does not possess coal. They all have rapidly increasing populations, and it is obvious that any nation with an increasing population must year by year import more and more goods and raw materials if they are to maintain the standard of life of their people. It was stated yesterday by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that these nations can buy foreign goods, can buy raw materials, as they have access to the markets on equal terms. Yes, but how are they going to pay for them? They can only pay for them by exporting their own goods. That is the fundamental fact. The Minister for League of Nations affairs has told us how very effective sanctions would be against Italy in prohibiting exports to League members. I submit that in the state of the world to-day the sanction of prohibiting exports is being used in a modified form against Japan, Germany and Italy, and I feel that we must take warning as to the danger to France and ourselves, to the United States and the Dutch of closing our empires to these countries. I realise the enormous difficulties of our manufacturers and exporters in the face of Japanese competition at appalling low prices. The natural impulse is to say "Stop it." In my view it would be wrong and disastrous to try to get any sudden stoppage. We have to tackle the problem deeply, not superficially.
What remedies are put forward? There is the remedy of more colonies. No voices have been raised in this Debate to suggest that we ought to give any of our 245 colonies to these dissatisfied nations. That, I think, would be against all the instincts of our people and we would have no moral right to do it. But could we not ask the co-operation of these dissatisfied peoples in the development of some of our colonies? Take, for instance, such a colony as British Guiana. We have owned it for 150 years and only 10 per cent. of its area has been developed, principally along the coast. Higher up the country wants roads and railways and has mineral and other resources awaiting development. Could we not in such a case invite the co-operation of countries like Germany and Italy—not in the least diminishing our sovereign rights but allowing the participation of their capital and labour in the work of development?
The other alternative is freer international trade, but here I must enter a warning. In the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen and in the speech just delivered I seemed to detect a too easy assumption that all these difficulties would be solved if we could only get back to the pre-war economic and financial systems. I am profoundly convinced that that system is dead and cannot be restored and that we have to invent a new technique of international exchange which will allow the fullest possible interchange between nations without detriment to home industries. No nation will sacrifice its own home industries and we certainly would not sacrifice our agriculture, for instance. If you could get a much fuller and freer international exchange it is obvious that you would have to have a higher internal consumption and a higher world consumption and I suggest that we must work along those lines.
May I put forward this suggestion to my right hon. Friend? There are committees and sub-committees meeting at Geneva to-day devising measures of coercion and repression against Italy. It is altogether right and proper that that should be so, but I suggest that there should be one other committee even now beginning the work of devising means whereby the League of Nations could go to Italy bearing in one hand the weapons of economic pressure and coercion but in the other hand a plan, not necessarily in detail but in broad outline which would assure Italy of her economic 246 future and remove her fears. I know it is said that we must do one thing at a time but I sincerely believe that the economic trouble is at the foundation of three-fourths of the international trouble. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham said yesterday that the granting of economic concessions would not placate these dissatisfied nations. Perhaps not, but I suggest that where a country is faced with a vista of diminishing imports and a lowering of the standing of life it is living in a state of extreme danger or thinks it is, and all history shows the results which proceed from such fears. Remove those economic fears and assure each nation of economic security in the future and in a more kindly soil you will get favourable conditions for the growth of liberty and democracy.
I conclude by referring to one other statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. He told us in a very sombre sentence of the possibility that in the future Germany would gather around her the discontented nations. He mentioned, I think, Poland and Hungary and others. I have constantly before me, the vision of a world divided into two camps, with France, Great Britain and Russia inside the League and outside it a kind of anti-League being formed by Italy—possibly in economic chaos and despair—Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, Japan, and Germany. I have a vision of the division of the world into two such camps each arming and still further arming—an anti-League under ruthless and capable governments planning for the day when it will be strong enough to challenge the League itself. Should that day arrive I have a vision of a sudden outbreak of war which will in all probability wreck our civilisation and will certainly destroy in all the cities of Europe the great monuments of history and of Christendom.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
Before proceeding to the few remarks which I wish to make on the international situation, I would like, as one who served in the Foreign Office during the tenure of office of the late Mr. Arthur Henderson, to add my humble tribute to those that have already been paid to him. The purpose of my rising to-night is, first and foremost, to express my whole-hearted agreement with the action taken by His Majesty's Government 247 during recent months and in particular within recent weeks with regard to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. I would like to express my admiration and appreciation of the historic stand which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary took at Geneva a little while ago. I would also like, respectfully, to congratulate the Minister for League of Nations Affairs on the clear and encouraging statement of our position which he has made to-night. Those of us who firmly believe that the road to peace lies in the development of greater co-operation between the nations, may be glad that we are represented at Geneva by a man—a young man—who is fortunate enough to combine practical statesmanship with obviously sincere devotion to and faith in the principles and ideals of the League.
It has been levelled against the Government that they should not have taken the bold lead which they did at Geneva. It has been suggested that they should have sat back and waited for somebody else to take that lead, or, by those who were more confused in their expression, that the League should have taken the lead itself. It is obvious that the League is merely the assembled nations which compose it and can take no initiative by itself. As for the rest, I think we may be proud that it was our great country which took the lead which has marked a historic advance in the process of the organisation of peace. What is more, the League of Nations at that moment was faced with a situation in which it must either act or die. For some 15 years or more past the nations at Geneva had been laboriously creating a great institution and great machine, the purpose of which was to prevent war, and, failing prevention, then to stop or limit the extent to which a war might spread. The occasion arose, a favourable occasion, I believe, for putting into operation this great institution and this great machine. Would it have been possible, without bringing the whole structure of the League crashing to the ground, for the League members to announce to the world, "This war has broken out; we have decided that Italy is the aggressor, but, although we have this wonderful machine, which could surely stop this dispute, nevertheless, for 248 reasons which we are not prepared to tell you, we do not propose to put it into operation"? It is clear that the League of Nations had to act or to sacrifice and throw away all the influence which the efforts of the past 15 years had given it.
The question now is, Are those sanctions which have been put into operation going to be effective? There seems to be general agreement in this House, with few exceptions, and equally general agreement in the country, that the interests of peace and the honour of this country demand that everything be done to see to it that the action that the League of Nations has taken shall be effective; otherwise, let us not blind ourselves to the truth that irreparable harm will have been done to the cause of peace. Should the action of the civilised world, through the nations assembled at Geneva, after pronouncing judgment against Italy, declaring her to be the aggressor, and taking action against her, prove ineffective., it will surely be an encouragement, almost an invitation, to future aggression. I think, therefore, those who share my views will warmly welcome the statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon, in which he made it abundantly evident to us that the Government are determined to see to it that no stone shall be left unturned to make the League's action successful and effective.
There is, however, one aspect of the situation which is giving rise to considerable speculation and, in some quarters, considerable anxiety. That is the question of a peace settlement. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday suggested, faintly indeed, that there was the possibility that a settlement would be reached between the three parties concerned between now and the date on which sanctions are to be imposed. I am sure that everyone of us ardently hopes that such a settlement will be reached. Nevertheless, I am somewhat in doubt whether the honourable settlement referred to by the Foreign Secretary, and referred to again by the Prime Minister this afternoon, a settlement honourable alike to Italy, to Abyssinia, and to the League, is a settlement which we can hope for at all. Even leaving Abyssinia out of the question altogether, is it possible to find a settlement honourable alike to Italy and to the League? I sincerely hope that it is, 249 but it seems to me that it will be very difficult to find.
Before the outbreak of hostilities the great Powers strained themselves to secure and to offer to Italy the most favourable terms possible, and it is a fact that our Government were considerably criticised at the time for the lengths to which they declared themselves prepared to go. Italy contemptuously rejected those offers, and I believe that Signor Mussolini was reported to have said that Italy intended to go forward with her campaign with the League, without the League, or against the League. It seems to me that it is hardly possible for the League of Nations, with any honour, to accept or to offer terms more favourable than those which they offered before the outbreak of war, and it is hardly to be expected that the Italian Government will consider it honourable to accept terms which they rejected before the outbreak of war, now that, since then, there have been great loss of life and great expenditure of money and of effort in this Abyssinian campaign. I do not wish to suggest that no such settlement is possible. All I would say is that there are considerable doubts in many people's minds whether such a settlement, honourable to all parties, is a practical possibility.
There is to be no single-handed action on the part of Great Britain. The Government have given once again this plain assurance, and, what is more, public opinion has in no doubtful words expressed itself as in agreement with that policy. Alone, Great Britain has no duty and no intention to shoulder the burden of policing the world. On the other hand, it has been made equally clear by our Ministers in these Debates that together with other nations there is to be no limit to the extent to which Great Britain will be prepared to go in the just implementation of her obligations. I have the greatest respect for the utterances of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), but I feel that he should study the Prime Minister's utterances, and I feel also that he was misquoting him when he suggested that the Prime Minister had made it clear that Great Britain eliminated the whole question of military sanctions from the realm of her policy. As I understand it, the Government 250 made it clear that we were prepared to go to any lengths to implement our fullest obligations under the Covenant, but provided only that other countries did the same. If I am wrong, I hope that I shall be corrected, but that is certainly the impression which has been given. Any doubts on that score would have a discouraging effect upon those who are most fervently supporting the policy of His Majesty's Government.
A short while ago my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), with all the authority which he commands, uttered a timely warning to the French people who know his great understanding for their problems. I think that France should think once and think again before, in spite of all her difficulties, she considers breaking up that system of collective security and undermining its efficiency—that very system upon which she may at some future date depend for her own safety. She may be sure, I think that if she fully implements her obligations to-day we and the other great Powers of the League will not desert her should occasion arise in her hour of need. One thing, however, is certain. The British people will never allow their country to become a mere pawn in somebody else's game, and they will never allow their country to be used as a, tool to advance the selfish interests of any other nation. Either there will be fair and general co-operation between all the nations who have signed the Covenant, or there will surely be in this country a revulsion of feeling against the League of Nations among those very people who to-day most sincerely and ardently support it. That revulsion of feeling will undoubtedly be a most serious setback to the process of organising collective security, and, what is more, will greatly handicap any British Government in its work for international co-operation.
Let us not, however, dwell unduly upon the possibilities of the failure of the League's action. Let us rather join with the more optimistic attitude of the Minister for League of Nations Affairs in sincerely and fervently hoping that the great lead taken by His Majesty's Government at Geneva will be successful. Let us hope that other countries will see the wisdom and the advantage of supporting the League of Nations in this 251 crisis and see the short-sightedness of throwing away the hopes and all the efforts of so many years. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that this crisis is the turning point in the whole development of international relations since the War. Either the world is going forward or it is going backwards, and it will not be the fault of Great Britain if we slip back to the position in which we were before the Great War.
Let me say a word about rearmament. The hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) and others have suggested that if the League of Nations' present action is effective the need for rearmament will disappear. As I see it, the position is exactly the opposite. It is the strength of the individual members of the League which in the long run compose the strength of the League itself. Even economic sanctions necessitate proper defence. The preparedness and the defence of countries like Great Britain, which neither fear nor envy any other country, are, in fact, in the last resort the rock foundation on which the covenant of the League will rest. Let us make it clear to the world that Great Britain has attempted to make the ideals of Geneva a practical and concrete reality. The short-sightedness of other nations may oblige us to abandon our efforts and may in the long run even oblige us to seek peace in our own way and within the confines of our own Empire. One thing is certain, however. The British people for generations to come, whatever may be the result of the present crisis, will look back with glowing pride at the bold and magnificent stand which the British Government had taken during these eventful weeks in support of peace, civilisation and progress.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN GANZONI
I was, like many other people no doubt, very much relieved at the speech made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs yesterday and the speeches made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs to-day, because during the last two or three weeks it appeared to me that there was much confusion of thought abroad. There were those who tried to draw correct deductions from what really authentic news was available about foreign affairs, but they were reinforced 252 on this occasion by those more experienced and logical minds who were falling into error owing to the fact that no lead was given from authoritative quarters in this country. That was due, of course, to the fact that Parliament was not in session and that the Leaders of the Government had not that stage for making authoritative pronouncements. I was particularly impressed about a week ago when in my constituency there was a meeting of the League of Nations Union. They have a meeting every autumn, and on this occasion I was in the chair. The meeting was held in the hall where we normally hold our best meetings at election and other times, and which it is usually difficult to fill even when the local member is supported by people of the highest distinction from outside.
On arrival at this League of Nations meeting, held in the present atmosphere, I found the hall was full, the gallery was full and, probably entirely contrary to by-laws intended for the safety of His Majesty's lieges, the gangways were crowded half way up the hall, so that it was impossible to move in any direction, and, also, a large number of people had been turned away. Those present were all, I say it in no uncomplimentary sense, ordinary people, ordinary electors of both sexes, who had come there not out of curiosity and certainly not in any partisan spirit, but because of their genuine anxiety about the present situation and their eagerness for more information upon which they could draw as correct deductions as they might be able to arrive at. It was a wonderful meeting and appeared to be quite unanimous. At the end the audience passed a resolution expressing support of His Majesty's Government in everything they had been doing to limit the conflict that has now broken out. As a matter of fact I, having been asked to be chairman sometime beforehand, was aware that that resolution originally said, "To stop the war between Italy and Abyssinia." Unfortunately, the conflict had broken out before the meeting, and the resolution had to be amended to "limiting the area of the present regrettable conflict between Italy and Abyssinia," and it went on to express complete support of the Government in any steps, however drastic, which they might take.
253 I wondered how many of those in that hall quite realised the full implications of such a resolution, just as I had been wondering, some two or three weeks before the House met, whether the leader writers of many newspapers and those who read the leaders realised the full implications of the very drastic steps the Government were called upon to take. It is because, perhaps, I have some realisation of those implications that I so greatly welcome the speeches made by our leaders in this House yesterday and today, and I cannot help feeling that I must be right, and very fully right, in what I say about the mass of confused thought which prevails in the country, and which does not exist only among the rank and file of the voters outside. The political friends and enemies of the party opposite have lost in this House and in another place distinguished leaders who served them faithfully and long—in this House one whom we have all held not only in esteem but in affection for many years, the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)—because they were not prepared to follow the rest of their party to the logical conclusion of that party's desire to take very firm action, perhaps unilateral and firm action, to stop the present conflict between Italy and Abyssinia.
Nobody with any knowledge of the facts can wish to make any excuse for Italy's action in this connection. For one member of the League, after having subscribed to the Covenant and to the Kellogg Pact, to make a wanton attack upon another member, to use war as an instrument of policy after definitely pledging their word not to do so, to lay violent hands upon the territory of another member after pledging their word not to do so, is undoubtedly inexcusable. To my mind, everything said in that direction in this House, or written in the papers, or which is going to be said at the General Election, is beside the point, and is only likely to arouse evil passions, to do harm on the Continent and to make more difficult the task of our Government, of whatever colour it may be, and of our representatives at Geneva. There is one thing and one thing only that matters. I hope it is not vain glory to say so, but having a different standard, or code of morals, from some other nations, we remember that we have definitely put our name to the Covenant 254 of the League of Nations and to the Kellogg Pact and that it is our bounden duty to go forward, with all the other signatories who show themselves willing, in doing everything possible—not by ourselves alone, not by this country, but by the League including ourselves—to limit the area of the present deplorable and unnecessary war being waged in North-East Africa and to bring it to the very earliest possible and most satisfactory conclusion.
The great party of which I have been a member for some 20 years naturally subscribe to that view, because obviously those of us who had the most close experience of the Great War are more anxious even than others that there should be no recurrence of it; but I think there is another reason why the great party to which I am proud to belong, and the National Government which I support—and I am very proud that I and my party do support the National Government, and I believe it to be the right thing to do—should be more opposed to war than any other body in the whole country. It is a reason which I have not heard mentioned before in this Debate. The National Government have been proved since 1931 to have had and to have put into execution a great constructive policy for the benefit of the people of the country, and that will be checked and put back for a generation or more if that conflagration, which is at present limited to North-East Africa, is by any indiscretion or any wanton act made to extend to the Continent of Europe and to embrace great nations of Europe as well.
For that reason I believe that at the coming election the people of this country will believe the protestations of the National Government that though they have done their part and will continue to do their part to stop the present war by economic sanctions and by every possible method of counsel and advice and pressure, and by the renewal of offers which may facilitate a settlement between the belligerents—that though they will do all these things it is a false and a completely unwarrantable accusation to charge the present National Government or the party to which I belong with being in any sense of the word warmongers or more war-minded than any other party or any other section of the people of this 255 country. For that reason I have heard the speeches made by the leaders of the Government in the last two days with the very greatest satisfaction, and I feel that if only they are studied and taken to heart and properly digested the people of this country will realise that they have again been well and faithfully served by their representatives at Geneva as well as here at home.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I always listen with the greatest possible pleasure to the hon. Baronet when he addresses the House upon any subject and I need not assure him that I quite appreciate his intense anxiety that the present Conservative forces should go to the country as a National Government. He has a very acute appreciation of the point that unless those forces hang together they are likely to hang separately, and that the more they are together the merrier they will be.
I have listened with some care to the exposition of the governmental case by authoritative speakers since the beginning of this Debate yesterday afternoon, and I confess that after having listened to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs my difficulty remains almost as great as it was before the discussion began. I wonder whether the House will forgive me if I interpolate this personal observation: I came into this House in 1921 as a pacifist, known to be a pacifist. I do not say that I was elected on that account—perhaps in spite of it—but my views were well known to my constituents as being those of a pacifist. I confess, therefore, that the present development of affairs has caused me, as I dare say it has caused other hon. Members who are not of my views at all, the greatest possible perplexity and difficulty. Every man in public life likes, I presume, to maintain, if possible, something approaching consistency. One can maintain, and one is entitled to maintain, consistency only so long as one can conscientiously defend it. I must admit to the House to-night that, after giving the deepest and the most anxious consideration to this new problem as presented to me and to others in the last few weeks, I have come to a very 256 definite and clear conclusion, which I hope to indicate presently to the House.
A pacifist entertains two views, or rather, there are two parts to his creed. There is what I would call the negative part, and there is the positive part. The negative part is that which calls upon him to declare that war is such a brutal, bloody and bestial business that he feels he cannot give any sort of sanction to it. He says that war proves nothing—not perhaps that it settles nothing but that it proves nothing except where the greater measure of strength lies. You may win a war which has arisen out of a dispute, but whether you win or lose in the war the rightness or wrongness of the dispute remains precisely where it was before the war began. No harm has been occasioned to this House or to the country that the point of view of the pacifist should have been put in this House yesterday with such potency, eloquence and courage as were shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). No one here is more entitled than he to state that case, and I am very glad that he had the courage to put it, with such restraint as he did. But there is a positive side to the pacifist case, and it is this: The pacifist declares not only that he is against war as such—and with that all of us are obviously in agreement—but he also says: "I know a more excellent way than the method of war." The more excellent way is the method provided through the medium of the machinery of the League of Nations.
It is the special problem of what is to happen to that more excellent way, the method of arbitration provided by the League, that concerns us so much and so deeply in this discussion. This is not an exaggeration: either we maintain the League in this business or there is no alternative except that nations throughout the world will lay down the positive claim that they individually and severally shall build for themselves the fullest measure, the fullest amplitude, of arms. If arms are being built on every hand there is absolutely nothing to stand between us and war in the long run. If you build armaments in the same unrestrained way as was done before the War, the calamity in the long run is likely not only to be as great as in the case of the last war but to engulf the whole of our civilisation.
257 I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) is not in his place, but that is not my fault, because I wish to draw attention to the fact that the only alternative that has been addressed to the House in this discussion to the use of the League method has been the alternative suggested this afternoon by him. What was his solution? I took it down in precise words and I was meticulous in taking down, as far as I could, the very words he used. His suggestion is that the French and the British Governments should have insisted upon taking up the matter, that is, the dispute, with Signor Mussolini, even if he tried to evade. Those are his exact words. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, as I would ask those who agree with him: Suppose Signor Mussolini had continued to evade, what then? Let them face this great issue. It is all very well to denounce the Government's method; I will have some words to say about that myself in a moment. On the principle we are fundamentally agreed, but as between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook and the Government there is a great gulf fixed, so he says. He declares that rather than use the method of the League they ought to use the method suggested by him, namely, that France and Britain of their own accord, without regard to the League, should bring some sort of pressure to bear upon Signor Mussolini, even though he evaded. Suppose that Signor Mussolini continued to evade, what then? The right hon. Gentleman says that we must not have war. What would he do? What could he do if Sigor Mussolini continued to evade even the approaches of Great Britain and France jointly?
I must admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook has been consistent in the view that he has taken. He never hesitated during the Sino-Japanese dispute to say that hat was his view. I thought then, and I believe I told him, that I regarded his pronouncement when he addressed the House as a particularly mischievous view to advance. But I am not alone in taking that view now. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had some observations to make about him last week at Glasgow, and let me introduce them to the attention of the House. The Chancellor of the 258 Exchequer, at Glasgow, on 14th October, said:There are some people who would tell us that these issues do not reallly concern us, but that as we are happily surrounded by the sea we can rest safely and comfortably in this little island of ours and let the rest of the world go down to chaos and ruin. Mr. Amery, for instance, told a Birmingham audience the other day that he was not prepared to send a single Birmingham lad to his death in Abyssinia. I think it would be difficult to cram into a few words a more mischievous distortion of the realities of the situation than was compressed in that one sentence of Mr. Amery's.I could not hope to express more completely and succinctly my own view of the right hon. Gentleman's contribution to these matters than has been done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I said that the position of the Government fills me with some apprehension in this matter. I turn again to the same speech of the Chancellor for the text for my observations. I thought the Chancellor stated in most excellent terms what he considered to be the proper view with regard to the League and its functions.When nations undertake solemnly that they will not resort to war as an instrument of national policy, and that they will not lay hands on the territory of fellow members, and then go and violate both of those undertakings, if we are to allow that to pass without saying to the violator that he cannot flout the conscience of the world with impunity, none of us would look to the League in future to give us any protection against aggression directed against ourselves.That, I take it, is the view of the Government as it stood on 14th October when it was declared by the Chancellor in his speech at Glasgow, and with that statement I venture to express my humble agreement. This afternoon the Prime Minister, devoting, I thought, if he will forgive me for saying so, scarcely enough attention to the international situation, told us that in his judgment—and I was glad to hear him say it—any settlement arrived at must be conditioned by absolute loyalty to the Covenant. He went further, and he used another phrase which I was exceedingly glad to hear. He said that the Government did not imply that there should be any loophole at all. No loophole, he said, is intended.
Let me tell the Prime Minister frankly, for we want to be frank with each other surely, what my fears, and, I think, the fears of my hon. Friends are in this 259 matter. We fear that there is a slowing down in the application of the principle of sanctions in this particular matter, and that fear has gathered strength, may I tell the Prime Minister—perhaps we are wrong—as a result of the discussions that have been going on directly in Rome between our Ambassador there and Signor Mussolini. As a consequence of them, we are assured that Italian sentiment has been made more agreeably disposed towards Great Britain; the atmosphere between Britain and Italy has been very much happier than it was before. What does that mean? The Chancellor of the Exchequer on 14th October said that we must not allow the violator to flout the conscience of the world, and yet now we are told that, as a result of the discussions that have gone on in Rome, the violator and his friends feel very much encouraged and heartened. This is obviously what we are told in the Press, and that is all that we can go on—that Italy is encouraged and heartened by the assurances given by our Ambassador in Rome last week.
That is one ground for the feeling of apprehension which we have in this matter. Out of that there follows this. I hope I am wrong, but if it should happen that there is to be a slowing down or a postponement of the application of sanctions until after the election or just before the election—10th November is the date now given I believe—and a possibility afterwards that because of the ineffectiveness of sanctions a case may arise for saying the League has failed, and then the claim being made that because the League has failed we must rearm—I am not sure that we are not entitled even from the speech of the Secretary of State yesterday to think that that is going to be the situation with which we are to be confronted when the Election is over. I do not want to read into the situation anything which I ought not to read into it, because the situation is so dreadfully serious, but I am bound to say that these assurances which seem to have been given to Italy, unless we can have them before us word for word, will still leave in my mind a feeling of unhappiness as to the ultimate issue.
Now, of course, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, this happiness, this rejoicing 260 at the improvement of relations between Britain and themselves is confined to Italy. There is no rejoicing in Abyssinia. It is Italy which is the aggressor. Abyssinia has studiously throughout this dispute kept well within the letter and the spirit of the Covenant. Never once has it departed by one jot or tittle from the words and demands of the Covenant, and therefore if by the postponement of sanctions the League fails, and the victim suffers and the aggressor triumphs, who can tell what encouragement that may be to others in Europe, watching this very carefully, to hope equally that just as sanctions may have failed in regard to Italy so sanctions may fail in regard to them if occasion arose?
The Government claim fidelity to the League. If, after the election, this pledge is betrayed, either willingly or unwillingly, we may be quite sure that the people of this country, when they make the discovery, will exact the uttermost from the Government that betrays them. The right hon. Gentleman says that they are not betraying them. I am very glad to hear it. But I am most anxious that, if there is to be a betrayal of the League, Britain shall not play the part of Iscariot in the matter. If there are others prepared either to give or to receive the thirty pieces of silver for betrayal, let the hands of Britain at least be as clean as we can secure that they shall be. Let us be able to say that we have not betrayed innocent blood. I have said that our own record in this matter of the League is none too clean. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the basis of my suggestion—
§ Mr. JONES
I accept that; it is quite good. "Satisfactory" is satisfactory to me. It is apposite to recall to the House that in 1925, two years after Abyssinia joined the League, the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was then Prime Minister effected an agreement between France, Italy and this country behind the back of Abyssinia. She was a member of the League, and an agreement was arrived at between these three countries for the delimitation of economic 261 spheres of influence without the knowledge or consent of "Abyssinia. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is not very much, but I think it is very important. Abyssinia discovered this, and protested to the League against the action of her fellow-members in embarking on this course of conduct without her knowledge and consent. The Prime Minister ought not to be surprised, therefore, if the action of this Government is watched with meticulous care in relation to the future of Abyssinia, for I repeat, and it cannot be denied, that in 1925 an attempt was made, when Abyssinia was a member of the League, to partition economic spheres of influence in Abyssinia.
That is not the only record that is not very, shall we say, satisfactory. The Minister for League Affairs made, I thought, a somewhat lame attempt this afternoon to draw some sort of distinction between the Sino-Japanese dispute in its essence and this dispute in its essence vis-a-vis the League. Let me see if I can correct him on one or two points which I think he had overlooked. May I say in passing that I am not accusing him personally, because he was not responsible for League affairs in those days. It seems to me that this country and the world in general are likely to have to pay very dearly for the luxury of having the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) as Foreign Secretary in this country for four years, and, indeed, it is very possible that the people of Spen Valley themselves may in due time have to pay for it.
It is significant that Japan first embarked on an expedition in Manchuria one month after the Labour Government went out. Apparently they had a very acute conviction that they could rely upon the new Government not to be too inquisitive. It is true that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, Japan was never an aggressor, but it is also true that the League of Nations' own Commission, the Lytton Commission, having been sent to the very spot to inquire into the circumstances, denounced with bell, book and candle all that Japan had done in Manchuria; and, indeed, an implied sanction was applied—quite innocuous, I know—to this extent, that from that day to this, as far as I know, not one of the League Powers has formally recognised the new Government of Manchukuo. 262 That is the only sanction that has been applied, but it was an indication that the League regarded Japan's action in Manchukuo as inimical from the standpoint of the League. Nothing beyond that has ever happened. It is quite true that there was no declaration of war between Japan and China, but was there a declaration of war between Italy and Abyssinia until after it began? Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that, whenever the formal declaration of war was made, Italian troops and aeroplanes had actually flown over Abyssinian territory and destroyed and killed people before any declaration of war took place. That is a very sinister fact. If we are to take it as accepted procedure for the future that nations are to be allowed to embark upon war without even troubling to issue a formal declaration of war, it is a very serious and sinister development in international relations of this kind. Not that the formal declaration of war makes very much difference, except that it does give the other people, anyhow, a chance to know that formal diplomatic relationships and other normal relationships have been completely cut off. There was no declaration in this case. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Chinese Minister was never withdrawn from Tokyo, and that is true; but the Italian Minister in Abyssinia will not allow himself to be sent out of Addis Ababa. He loves the place so much that he will not go from it. His attachment to the Abyssinian people is so complete that he will not go out even with an escort, though they provided a special train to send him away.
Now, the parallel is very sinister between the method of Japan in Manchukuo and the method followed by Mussolini in Abyssinia, and we are entitled to argue that what happened in the Far East has encouraged Mussolini to follow the same course of action in Abyssinia. Japan got away with it. Later on Germany got away with it. Let the right hon. Gentleman answer this point if he can. Although Germany was denounced for her violation of her undertakings in relation to the League—she was denounced at Stresa—within a few weeks we entered into the Anglo-German naval agreement outside the League altogether. Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot argue that all these 263 facts have bad no effect upon the mind of other people in judging our attitude towards the League and its commitments.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
The hon. Gentleman objects to our entering into a naval treaty with Germany. Would he prefer absolutely unrestricted naval competition?
§ Mr. JONES
What is the use of raising an issue like that now? We have discussed that before. I am discussing the attitude of the Government towards the League. I say that, when our Government claims its tremendous fidelity to the League, when you entered into the Anglo-German Naval Agreement within a month of denouncing Germany's attitude to League commitments, you violated the very thing that you claim, namely, our fidelity to the League.
§ Mr. JONES
That is true, but Germany was committed to certain conditions of disarmament under the Treaty of Versailles. In any case, if that was unimportant, there was no need to arrive at the pontifical resolution that was carried at Stresa.
Let me turn to the next attitude of the Government in regard to the League. The Government took very special care to do all it could to sabotage the peace ballot. They even said up and down the country that it was being engineered by the wicked Socialists, and the then Foreign Secretary poured the utmost ridicule upon the whole proposal. Now they are saying what great lovers of the Covenant of the League of Nations they are, but it was not so apparent when the peace ballot was being proposed. Another count in the indictment is this. I know the right hon. Gentleman has worked hard on this problem of disarmament and I would not withdraw one word of the proper meed of praise that is his right and just due. In this matter of disarmament, as in the matter of the recent discussions at Geneva, people have been saying that he is a young man in a hurry. That has always been said by old men in a fog. Let the right hon. Gentleman not 264 be discouraged, however. In so far as he has been standing by the Covenant of the League all these months, he has in real truth been expressing the aspirations of the youth of the world.
He proceeded to make some play with the fact that there had been discussions going on between our country and the Italian Government since January last. He gave us details of talks that have taken place and he also told us of the assurances that he had got from Italy. If these assurances were so acceptable, did it never occur to him to ask why all these troops were being sent at the same time to Africa? The answer that he gave to-day was that you cannot interfere with the right of a nation to send any number of troops through its own territory across the sea. If that is true, what was the point of the embargo, because after all the effect of the embargo was to withdraw from Abyssinia the right that Italy claimed. If Italy claimed the right to send troops, Abyssinia ought to have the right to import arms. In 1925, France, Britain and Italy signed a special arms treaty which provided that arms might only be imported into Abyssinia upon the receipt of an order signed and sealed either by the Emperor or by some duly authorised Minister on his behalf. Abyssinia is so situated that the other three countries, France, Britain and Italy, encircle her and if she gave up, as she seems to have done, the right to import arms of her own free will she was granted in return by the three Powers concerned the right to import them on the authorisation of the Emperor or his agents. With the embargo imposed, Abyssinia lost all possibility of obtaining any means whatever of protecting herself. To do that while Italy was sending unrestrained all these troops and armaments was an action calculated in effect to be inimical to the interests of one party and not to those of the other. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that the Government either did too little between January and July, or that they did too much. But it certainly is true that in either case Abyssinia was the sufferer and not Italy, and Italy, mark you is the violator, to use the expression of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself.
I turn from that side of the discussion to another. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to-day devoted a good 265 deal of his time to a development of the case for re-armament. I think that that is what the Government calls it, but I prefer to call it increased armaments. I see that the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) is surprised at the distinction I draw.
§ Mr. JONES
Then the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that there is no justification for the use of the word rearmament for there has been no disarmament. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister mean? He said that in future he would not be responsible for the conduct of the affairs of this country as Prime Minister unless he were fortified with a mandate for greater armament. What does that mean? I presume that I am right in saying that the Prime Minister wanted to imply that in this present dispute he feels that he has been hampered by the knowledge, from his point of view, that we are not sufficiently armed.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not complain at all of that interpretation. It was only what the hon. Member said before. Let me be quite clear. It was not that I would object to continuing the policy of pursuing collective security under the Covenant of the League of Nations under present conditions. I do not take exception to what the hon. Member said when I rose.
§ Mr. JONES
The right hon. Gentleman says that he would be hampered in the discharge of his responsibility as Prime Minister and as a member of the Government in relation to the duty of safeguarding collective security unless he were possessed a power to increase the armaments of our country. I understood that the point of view of the Government has always been that they were not prepared—I am not asking them to do so—to embark upon unilateral action. We have not asked them to do that. No unilateral action! Very well, if there is to be no unilateral action but only collective action, suppose you multiply your armies tenfold or a hundredfold, how will that alter your discharge of responsibility in relation to collective security? If you had a hundred times more armaments you could not act differently, for the simple reason that with all this multiplication of 266 arms you would still be saying, "I will not act alone." Suppose the right hon. Gentleman gets his concession and we increase armaments one hundredfold, what then? Will that increase his power? It will only increase his authority in so far as he has forces at his disposal.
The case, therefore, of the Government is that they rest their authority in the long run not upon the collective forces available to all the nations, but upon the individual measure of force at the disposal of a particular nation. That is not collective security at all. That in my judgment—forgive me for saying so—is a wicked distortion of the meaning of the term "collective security." The right hon. Gentleman is simply demanding that Britain as a member of the League shall have so much armaments at her disposal, not because of the weight of her influence or of her contribution to the discussions, but rather that the aggregation of forces at her disposal shall carry influence. You are still relying, I submit to the Prime Minister, not upon collective action, but upon the majesty and strength of your material forces.
I will ask another question. If the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to say on behalf of the British Government that we must have more forces at our disposal so that we can play our part adequately in the League, what will the other nations say? Suppose France says "I must increase mine a hundredfold" and Italy says, "I must increase mine one hundredfold."
§ Mr. JONES
They have not. If every nation does the same thing your final position will be in no whit different from the position you now occupy, except that by the multiplication of arms in the world you have, by that very act, increased the sense of insecurity in the world. I confess that I have looked at this argument as carefully as I can, and I do not see what logical case the Government can advance in its support, if, as the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly says, they look at it from the point of view of collective security and not from the point of view of individual or national security. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs made a jibe on that at 267 my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, because he said that if our point of view is maintained we shall be committed to greater armaments, and he added the obvious jibe that has to be made nowadays if you want cheers in this House, that if you have a Socialist financial policy you will not have the money. I will examine their case for the money in a moment. I thought that we all believed in collective security, and I beg of the Prime Minister to believe me when I say that I utterly deny that the phrase "collective security" properly understood, and certainly as used by us, is capable of, or ought to be subjected to, the interpretation which the Government places upon it. That is not our view at all. Our view is that the League of Nations collectively should provide for the world and for any aggrieved nation adequate security not by aggrandising one within the League, but by making all collectively powerful enough to deal with an aggressor.
I want, before I close this argument, to say this to the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I believe him when he says that he is very anxious for the League and the League's policy to be vindicated in this matter. But it can only be done if the most rigorous adherence to the Covenant is observed. When hon. Gentlemen opposite talk glibly of the Covenant, let me remind them that sanctions are not the only point referred to in the Covenant. Sanctions are there, I agree, but there is much more in that Covenant than the provisions in respect of sanctions. We are committed in that Covenant not merely to sanctions but we are committed to do all we can, not to rearm but to disarm. If you insist upon one Article of the Covenant let hon. Members not forget that we are entitled to ask for the Covenant, the whole Covenant and nothing but the Covenant. If the League is vindicated in this case, then I confess I see a chance for disarmament being accepted more readily in the world. Vindicate the League in this case and France and other nations will learn that the League can give them security. Let the League fail and I tremble almost, to think what the ultimate alternative must be. I know that hon. Members—I do not complain of it—warn us of the dangers that lie in the path of those who seek for the application of sanctions, and I admit that truth 268 willingly. It is easy to start upon a war with the highest possible ideals, and before you are in it three months you find that your ideals have been bedraggled in the dust, and you are left with objects, aims and purposes that you never contemplated when the war began. So it was in the last war; so it may be in another war. The only safe thing we can do is to keep out of it.
Mussolini may win. If he wins he will be able to tell his people in Italy, "I have defied the nations of the world. I have triumphed over the League of Nations. I have asserted that nothing in the world counts but force." And if he loses the alternative is equally ghastly, for an armed white nation would have gone down before a black nation, or before the League. If this war goes on and Mussolini wins, there is no telling what will happen. If the League does not interfere and he loses, who can tell what the repercussions may be on the minds of the black people throughout Africa, if they win single-handed against Italy. The only think to do is to see that the League triumphs. For if the League triumphs, the conscience of the world will have proven, even to a dictator, that it cannot be flouted with impunity. The right hon. Gentleman in the last words I heard sneered at us, I thought a little lightly, as to how we should find money. How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to find this money? We have spent four years in this House inviting the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to float a loan to provide public works in this land. We have been sneered at time and again. The Noble Lord opposite (Lord E. Percy) has taken his share, if I mistake not, in urging the claims of a public loan for fruitful public works. One after another the friends of the Government have sneered at us and said, "Where will you get the money?" All we asked was money to clothe our people, to feed our people, to keep them at work. All we asked was something to fortify our people against this eternal enemy that always knocks at their door. But we have been told we cannot have security against that enemy. Now you are to float a loan of £150,000,000—£200,000,000—any amount you like. Says the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "I have enough now"—yes, for the game of death.
§ Mr. JONES
The Chancellor of the Exchequer. "I am now free," he said at Bournemouth. Very well, if you are free now and you see your way to find £150,000,000 for any purpose, then I charge you—you have no right to spend it upon instruments of death. There are children who call for bread. There are people who cry for homes. There are slums to be removed. There are men and women who ask for a larger life. You are offering them a loan to destroy it. I hope the Prime Minister will forgive me if I have spoken strongly. I live among people who for eight years have seen nothing but the most desperate desolation. It is not surprising that we should feel, I had almost said a revolutionary spirit rising in us, the spirit of rebellion crying out against this crime you are about to commit. You are going to the country. We shall go with you. We shall meet you. You may beat us, but in the long run I warn the Prime Minister no Government can live in this country and ignore the cry of the poor. In the long run we shall win. We shall triumph, for truth is not always to be on the scaffold and wrong not always on the throne. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends may go to the country. We shall do our best to meet them, and, so far as we can, we shall try to secure that their Government goes down into the vile dust from which it sprang, "unwept, unhonoured and unsung."
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. MORRISON
I find so little in the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) with which I disagree that I feel almost a sense of embarrassment. I have had so many contests with the hon. Member that I feel there must be something suspicious which makes me agree to so much that he has said. After the generous tribute which he paid to the conduct of my right hon. Friend the Minister for League Affairs it would be ungracious on my part to take up the smaller points of his speech for criticism. If, as he says, my right hon. Friend expresses perfectly the mind and sentiments of the youth of this nation—apparently he included himself in that category—I do not see what higher praise could be given or what fuller endorsement of the 270 policy of His Majesty's Government could come from an Opposition speaker.
The only point on which, I gather, that we might possibly be at difference was the attitude he adopted towards the proposals indicated by the Prime Minister in regard to the renewal of our Fleet. He put the question in this way—why do you want a new fleet? If you increase it a hundredfold, how would you be any better off than you are to-day, if you believe in the principle of collective security? I would ask the hon. Member to bring his intelligence to bear upon the policy of which he is as much in favour as I am, that of collective security. He knows as well as I do—and it is idle to deny it—that in any action taken as the result of the policy of collective security the British Navy must inevitably carry the greater part of the burden. The hon. Member cannot deny that. All that is proposed, as I understand it, is that these men of ours who may be called upon to carry out the policy of collective security under onerous, difficult and dangerous circumstances, shall be provided with weapons that are up-to-date, weapons which will not expose them callously to the risk of injury and death from an aggressor armed with more modern weapons. How can the hon. Member possibly justify any criticism of such a policy?
When I listen to the hon. Member and I compare what he said with what I know to be current in Europe to-day, I remember that every small nation in the world views with delight every modernisation of our armaments. I find that the only people in the world who view with any apprehension the British Navy are Signor Mussolini and hon. Members opposite. It has been said that adversity makes strange bedfellows. I suggest to the hon. Member's consideration that strong delusion makes strange bedfellows also. I have listened to the Debate throughout its course and I got rather tired of the chorus of approval and praise poured upon the Government for the conduct of our international affairs, not that I disagree with it—in fact I am entirely in favour of it. For that reason, I want to say a word about the only discordant voice that has been raised in our proceedings. I refer to the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who I am glad 271 to see in his place. I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman. He and I share many views in common, but I must say, and I regret to have to say it, that the best encomium I can pay to his speech is that it will read very well in the "Popolo d'Italia."
I regret very strongly that I have to differ from my right hon. Friend on this matter. It is a subject on which he feels with the utmost sincerity. He delivered a well-documented speech in support of the thesis which he wished the House to accept which, so far as I could gather, was that we should take no action in regard to sanctions in the present crisis. Sincerely as he put his views, and ably as he advanced his documentary citations in support of his case, I honestly confess that I failed to see the relevance of a single one of those citations. My right hon. Friend referred to statements made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and others with regard to the Protocol and instanced, as I understood his argument, the hesitation with which our statesmen at that juncture expressed at increasing the commitments of this country in purely hypothetical circumstances as a reason for hesitation in the face of concrete, clear and definite circumstances. There is no relation between the two circumstances. If one is asked what we shall do if so-and-so happens he is naturally cautious as to what he may say. Those things are in the future, and events never turn out exactly in accordance with their description on paper.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook instanced in support of his proposition statements made by members of the Government in past days about the League of Nations and collective security. He instanced in support of his thesis a statement made by the Prime Minister to the effect that no one can say that the League of Nations can prevent war. None of us can do so, but is that any reason, when we are faced with a breach of the Covenant, for making no effort to prevent war? Surely that argument fails. The argument for the Protocol has no relation to the present circumstances, and the argument that the League of Nations may fail is no excuse for failing in trying to make it succeed in the present circumstances. 272 All these circumstances are hypothetical. Now we are faced with a concrete, flagrant, breach of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the question is, are we to abide by our pledged word or not? I can imagine the Emperor of Abyssinia calling for the assistance of the League of Nations, having maintained, as he has thoughout this controversy, great dignity, saying "I have been a good member of the League of Nations and I now ask you to apply the sanctions provided for in the Article." The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says "No; we cannot do that." The Emperor asks "Why not? You promised," and the right hon. Member says "a pamphlet was published by the Conservative Central Office about the peace ballot, and we must break our pledged word."
Are we going in the present circumstances to act in such a way as will destroy the faith of every nation in our pledged word, or in the way that actual events have cast upon us; that is to do our best in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, loyally abide by the League and do our part in it? I have no sympathy with those critics who say that we have been too active in prosecuting this matter; that we have been prosecutor as well as jury. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and myself believe in the British Empire. Does he think in an international crisis of this character, when the whole fate of the world and the sanctity attaching to Treaties are in the balance, that the British Empire is to be a mere spectator and leave it to Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia to carry the burden and heat of the day? The duty of the British Empire is clear. It cannot be a mere spectator and it would be false to its traditions if it failed to lead in a matter of this kind.
If I might turn again to the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, may I say that many of us have observed with interest and a good deal of sympathy the effect of actual events on the party opposite. We know their difficulties and we feel that they have gone through some heart-searchings and a certain amount of trouble in coming to the conclusion which they have now announced and to which no doubt they will definitely adhere. One result of that we deeply regret. I may be allowed as a back- 273 bench Member to express our regret at the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley has found it incumbent upon himself to take his seat on the back benches opposite. We have always admired the spirit in which he has conducted the Opposition. We realise that the decision to which he has come has been dictated by nothing but conscience and however divergent the advice which our consciences may give us, it would be a bad thing for this country if its public men failed to listen to the voice of conscience. As I say, we have admired the good humour and courage with which the right hon. Gentleman has conducted the Opposition—a courage sometimes amounting almost to desperation. He has indeed bravely made the best of a bad job.
While I feel, as I am sure most hon. Members feel, that sense of personal sympathy with hon. Members opposite, I must say that speaking as a citizen of this country I cannot but be profoundly thankful that this crisis in our affairs abroad has come upon us at a time when the party opposite has not been in power. It would have been a tragic affair if at a time like this, when a clear lead is required, when divisions in counsel would be so fatal and the dangers of a rash speech are so obvious, we had an Administration composed of the party opposite—a party at variance with its leaders in this House and in another place. I am sure that the ideals for which this country stands, the ideals splendidly expressed by my right hon. Friends in Geneva, would have suffered had the party opposite, with its divided counsels, been in power, and this country would have presented the same aspect of discomfiture as the Tuscan army displayed on being confronted with another Roman, Horatius, when we are told:Those behind cried 'Forward'And those in front cried 'Back.'Even among those who would cry "Forward" there has been, I am sorry to see, at times, some hint of a tendency to denigrate the Fascist regime rather than to praise the League of Nations. We ought to keep the two things entirely apart. Whatever our opinion of the Fascist regime may be, it is only the repercussions of that regime upon the international sphere which concern 274 us. These attacks upon Signor Mussolini and the Fascist regime merely provide powder and shot for propagandists who wish to impugn our good faith in supporting the League of Nations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), whom we all congratulate upon his elevation to his present position, thought fit the other day to make some satirical references to our foreign policy when it was conducted by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Lord President of the Council and the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary. The general public may well ask themselves whether our foreign policy would have been better conducted or would have presented an appearance of greater coherence and clarity if, instead of those two right hon. Gentlemen, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse and his right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley had been in charge of it.
I am sure the country and the House would like to know exactly what right hon. and hon. Members opposite want to do about the international situation. They are willing, apparently, to support the Government to a certain extent. They believe that the Government are doing the right thing but that, being opponents, they are, of course, doing it from wrong motives. The country will not accept any such unreasonable assumption as that and will want to know definitely what hon. Members opposite propose to do.
My real reason for asking the House to bear with me for a moment to-night is to express the hope that, amid all the preoccupations of these distressful times, His Majesty's Government and indeed the Governments of member-States generally, will realise that they are presented with an opportunity at the present time which may be of great value to them. They are seeing for the first time the League of Nations in action against the European aggressor. That has never happened before. What the League of Nations would or might do has always rested somewhat in the realm of speculation, but now we have an experiment under our eyes, and I have no doubt that opportunity will be taken of this experiment to see how the institution works, with a view, when this unhappy dispute is ended, of trying to see in what way the 275 machinery of the League of Nations may be improved. I feel that there are certain faults in the League of Nations, of which we are all conscious, and I feel that in some way these faults are due to the circumstances of its heredity and origin. It came into being at a time of great emotion in the world, and as I see it the key of these events was the entry of the United States into the War. It was not an easy thing for the Americans to come into the war. They needed some great compulsive motive, and I believe that most Americans who helped us in the war were actuated by a sincere desire to make the world "safe for democracy." They felt that it was a struggle between the powers of autocracy and those of democracy, and for that reason they felt justified in coming across to help us.
Those ideals seemed to be triumphant at the end of the war, and it was only natural that when the Treaty of Versailles was framed it should be somewhat drenched with a generous American sentiment of democracy and egalitarianism, a sentiment perhaps which took little account of deep-seated and ancient prejudices in Europe, but in politics prejudices are facts. The League of Nations, as it is now before us, was framed on mass production and egalitarian lines. It was obviously intended to be, and to function as, a universal assembly of democratic nations. It is now no longer universal, as we all know and regret, and the nations of the world are no longer all democratic. The consequence is that the divergence between the actual state of events as they are to-day and the League of Nations as it was originally planned has left us with an instrument which in many respects is faulty, and it is our duty to observe during the present time how we can remedy these things. What I am saying is not in the least a plea for neglecting the League of Nations as it is to-day. It is a bad workman who blames his tools, and our duty is to support the League as we have it. All that I ask is that we should observe its working scientifically to see if we can remedy these faults.
The faults which appear to me to have flowed from the egalitarian and universal conception of the League of Nations are these: In the first place, there is the dilatory nature of its procedure. Complaint has been made by many hon. Members 276 of that feature to-day, but what ought to be realised by the House, and I hope it is, is that those dilatory, delaying features were introduced deliberately into the organism of the League when the Covenant was framed, the idea being that these dilatory provisions would enable public opinion in what was imagined to be every democratic country in the world to exercise itself upon the rulers and thus prevent war. That was the idea. There is no use blaming the League to-day for being dilatory when, as a matter of fact, these provisions were deliberately inserted in order to delay and to give public opinion a chance to make itself felt. In a world in which we are faced with dictators who have no public opinion to which to account, the effect of those provisions has been to play into the hands of the dictators. While the committees of the League of Nations are forming and reforming their dignified conclusions, the troops of the dictator are marching. Indeed, before the committees elected their chairmen his aeroplanes were in the air.
That is a, feature of this situation with which, I think, we shall have to deal later on if we are to provide a more perfect weapon. Then, again, I think the egalitarian conception, the idea that one man is as good as another if not a great deal better, which was instinct in the League of Nations when it was formed, has led to the club becoming overcrowded, in spite of the withdrawal of countries whose presence we would all like to see. The universal conception of the League itself has, by adding all these nations, by extending its scope over the whole inhabited globe and parts of the uninhabited globe, added more to the embarrassments than to the strength of the League. It has undertaken tasks beyond its strength and embroiled itself in controversies from which it has emerged with diminished credit. Such tasks were the Sino-Japanese and the Grand Chaco conflicts. The plain fact of the matter is that these two conflicts were too far away from Geneva for the moral force of the League to be effective or for the exercise of its material power to be possible.
I feel that we ought to look at this aspect of the universality of the League in order to see whether we cannot arrange matters so that some branch of it deals with things near at hand so 277 that it can deal with them actually. There is another lesson which we ought to draw from the Sino-Japanese dispute. Another cause of the failure of the League of Nations in that matter was that China was not really a government at all. It is a great, proud, wonderful nation, a wonderful empire with a great tradition of philosophy, art and literature. It was at that particular moment not a nation in the sense that what its delegates said at Geneva bore any reference at all to events happening in China. These were dictated, not by the Government of China, but by the vagaries of contending war lords. The lesson which we should draw from that is that if we overhaul the League machine in future, one aspect that ought to be borne in mind is that for membership of the League we ought to demand a stricter criterion of internal order and civilisation, so that we may know that the delegates can pledge their countries and that we can talk to them as we can to civilised people. I could apply this to the present situation in regard to Abyssinia, but in view of the seriousness of the present conflict, I prefer to say nothing about the matter.
I am convinced that the idea of a League of Nations depends upon there being a common desire on the part of all those who follow the same sort of line, and if you make the club too all-inclusive, if too many people are in it from remote distances, with cultures and ideals different from your own, you will find it is a very difficult establishment to run. We ought also to consider whether we cannot get simplification by some sort of regional splitting up of the League. I feel that a League of Nations for Europe could keep the peace for Europe, that a League of Nations for America could keep the peace for America, and that a League of Nations for Asia might keep the peace for Asia. The people of Europe have a culture. They have been subjected to powerful unifying influences, in a real sense they really hang together, and an injury to one is an injury to all. I often think the peoples of countries—the peasants, the traders and the soldiers alike—have a clearer appreciation of that fact than some Governments seem to have. If we are to build a greater unity let us try to build it on the basis of such unity as already exists. Let us not attempt 278 to build up an artificial, theoretical unity which springs from no ethnological affinities and has no basis in actual fact.
I admit that for the purpose of sanctions it would be desirable to have some co-ordination between a League of Nations divided up in the manner I have indicated, but, after all, the purpose of the League of Nations is not primarily sanctions. Sanctions are the last resort, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, but where we differ is that he thinks there should never be a last resort. For the purpose of sanctions it might be necessary to call in wider and more universal powers, but I see no reason why that should not be arranged. For all the purposes of conciliation, for all the purposes of removing the causes of war, I believe we should do better with smaller and more manageable bodies. I am certain we shall never solve this problem by deductive reasoning from first principles, because nobody ever agrees upon first principles. I will take as an example two deductive thinkers very much before the public eye at the present time, Signor Mussolini and the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. Unfortunately, both of them mutually despise and contemn the first principles of the other, and from that sort of reasoning we shall never get anything. But there is no cause for despair in that, because I have found in the course of my life that men, though they may vary very much in their ideals and first principles, are yet surprisingly loyal to a clear-cut working arrangement if they can understand it and it is within their capacity to carry it out.
What I call for in the League of Nations is an alteration in its machinery, after this dispute, such as will secure smaller units, large enough to be effective but small enough to be manageable, in which the commonsense of mankind may really get to work upon a common basis of culture and sympathy, and that we should build upon the unity which does exist. Peace, after all, is more a matter of practice than anything else. Let the practice of peace grow by constant use of the methods of conciliation inside manageable bodies. In the world, thought really follows action more than action follows thought, and if it only became habitual for mankind to bring their disputes to a tribunal which they knew was manned by people of their own culture 279 I believe the practice and habit of conciliation would grow in the world, and we should be on the highway towards accomplishing something that is real. As it appears to me, the great thing is to follow faithfully the practical ideal of collective security. The idea of collective security is a much greater thing than the Treaty of Versailles or than the Covenant of the League of Nations in its present form.
The difficulty with which we have been faced has been the effort of propagandists for the League of Nations to hold up that particular form of arrangement as a sacrosanct thing. One of the great dangers of the propagandist is that in time he comes to believe his own propaganda. The advent of President Wilson upon these shores was a momentous event, but the world is not going to stand still and stare at that event for ever. It will go on. When this unhappy dispute is over the world should start to try to frame a new series of measures of collective security—measures which come down somewhat from the empyrean of post-war hysteria and exhaustion which are nearer to conditions that exist to-day.
The problems which have been mentioned in this Debate by many hon. Members will yield more readily to this treatment than to any other. Take, for instance, the problem of disarmament. Germany would listen with more attention to the views of Europe delivered by Europeans than to those views diluted by the voices of Costa Rica and Liberia. I believe that for the purpose of the economic readjustment which will have to be made if war is to be avoided you will get a more ready spirit of conciliation and compromise among people of roughly the same kind. The problem of how to reconcile the sovereignty of nations with a world order will certainly be less formidable if you start with a Continental order instead of a world order. The problems of tariffs which preoccupy the minds and attention of hon. Members on the Liberal benches would also yield more readily to European treatment than to world treatment. If you start with a European system we might realise something like the dream of that great French statesman M. Briand who visualised a very different 280 order in Europe. The great thing is to start in the right direction and follow the practical ideal of collective security. You will never solve these problems by any process of deductive reasoning from what are called first principles. I hope, as I said before, that no hon. Member will think that I have the least doubt that the Government's policy in supporting the League of Nations at the present time is abundantly justified.
Before I sit down I would join personally in the tribute that has been paid to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs for the magnificent way they have voiced the conscience and will of this nation. In paying that tribute I should also call attention to the admirable—I hope I may use that adjective—prescience of the Prime Minister who, in advance of these dreadful events, doubled his personnel at the Foreign Office. The uneasy vocation of my two right hon. Friends, the rapid succession of important events with which they have had to deal, the strain upon them and the magnificent way in which they have carried on have proved not only the wisdom of the Prime Minister's decision in that matter, but the wisdom of his choice of the two right hon. Gentlemen for the duties which they have so manfully discharged.
We should not in any way slacken in our efforts to support the League of Nations, in doing which we are supporting good faith among nations. Good faith among nations and the sanctity of treaties are the inevitable bases of any possible advance in human affairs. I hope that after this dispute is over we may forge another tool rather better, which may do rather more to give humanity a better system of collective security and which may be more effective in giving humanity that rule of law. Humanity is so eager to do well and is so prone to do ill that only under such a system can civilisation endure or develop.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
Although it is extremely difficult to disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Morrison), I feel it is necessary to voice the apprehension felt not only by some Members of this House but also, I am convinced, by an enormous number of 281 people in the country, that we are going too far and too fast along this path of collective security. We have the extraordinary phenomenon that in the last three months the whole foreign policy of Great Britain has been radically altered, for what reason we do not know. The fact is that at the beginning of this year real collective security was not part of the Government's foreign policy. It was specifically repudiated on more than one occasion. It was repudiated originally in 1925, when with great foresight the then Conservative Government recognised the dangers of the Geneva Protocol and specifically rejected the system of collective security and Article XVI of the League Covenant. Many of us rejoiced at that rejection then, and we are puzzled to know why there has been this extraordinary reversal of policy since.
Collective security is less possible now than it was then, because there are wider gaps in the collective system. It cannot be the peace ballot that has produced this effect. His Majesty's Government cannot have been bluffed by that grotesque sham, those alleged 11,000,000 signatures, secured in the most extraordinary way by unscrupulous convassers, from people of whom a large proportion were not even of voting age. If the Government think that the country is firmly determined to maintain the existing Covenant of the League of Nations, cost what it may, they are making the greatest mistake that any Government has made. I am convinced from personal observations that the country is not prepared to indulge in any extravagant sacrifices for the maintenance of that Covenant. I believe that at the Conference of the party opposite the real opinion was voiced not by the block vote of the trade unions but by the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who expressed the aversion to any sort of war which I think is extremely prevalent in this country at the moment.
I believe that if any part of the British Empire were attacked we should get a response from our people for the defence of that Empire. I do not believe that you would get any response for the defence of an international ideal; I cannot see why you should. Who that has followed the proceedings of the League of 282 Nations can possibly believe that all the other nations composing it have any intention whatever of maintaining the Covenant in its entirety? We have so far succeeded in dragging a number of unwilling people at our heels down the path of economic sanctions. Whether we shall be able to stop at economic sanctions I do not know. Presumably the Government think that we can stop at economic sanctions. Many of us were profoundly relieved when we heard the statement of the Foreign Secretary that no action in the way of military sanctions was contemplated, or was likely to be contemplated, by the Government, but it is not so long ago that we were told that economic and military sanctions amounted to the same thing. We were told that on the authority of the Prime Minister, who, if I may quote his words, said, on the 18th May, 1934:The moment you are up against sanctions you are up against war. I have probably put in as much work on these subjects as any Member of this House for the last 12 months, and one of the many conclusions to which I have been driven is that there is no such thing as a sanction that will work that does not mean war.… If you adopt a sanction without being ready for war, you are not an honest trustee of the nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1934; col. 2139, Vol. 289.]We have adopted a sanction, indeed a series of sanctions, but I do not think that the most optimistic militarist would claim that we were ready for war. In fact, our unreadiness is almost a European byword at the moment. I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government have got some real assurance that there is no danger of any incident arising which is likely to cause a war, and that they are not likely to be carried, by their very recent enthusiasm for the Covenant of the League, into any step which may imperil the, shall I say, slightly unbenevolent neutrality which we now have between ourselves and Italy.
It needs but a very small spark to start a war, but one untoward incident in the Mediterranean, and one only, because we know that these military incidents, if they occur, cannot be glossed over. I believe that, if we make our sanctions really effective, we are bound to have that military incident coming. I cannot conceive that the Italian nation, if it is faced with defeat as a result of sanctions, will not prefer to go down 283 fighting rather than to go down tame. If anyone thinks otherwise, they have an extraordinary misconception of the character or Signor Mussolini. I believe that if these sanctions work we are in very grave danger, and that the utmost vigilance will be required. If these sanctions do not work, then of course the whole system of collective security is exposed as futile. Many of us will not grieve overmuch if that is the case, but it would be as well if this country, for the sake of its prestige, did not—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.